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Desert Diary


We sometimes forget that there are all sorts of things out there ready to get us, lurking and invisible. No glowing eye shine or blood-curdling howls—just silent invasion. Although the urban border region has its share of these menaces, like Mycobacterium tuberculosis that causes tuberculosis, other microorganisms lie in wait out in the countryside.

Who hasn't heard of the plague? After all, there are estimates that perhaps 100 million people died of it in the 6th century A.D. and that a quarter of the population of Europe succumbed in the 14th century. Yet, plague? In the arid Southwest? Unfortunately, yes. Not that it's cutting huge swaths through the population, but almost every year there are a few deaths in New Mexico and Trans-Pecos Texas from this flea-borne disease. So who gives it to the fleas? Rodents! And who gives it to the rodents? Fleas! A vicious circle—one that you definitely don't want to join. For us, the flea's the danger, and avoidance is by far the best policy.

And if plague's not enough, there's always tularemia!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


Fleas act as vectors, carrying the plague bacterium from animal to animal. After Lutz, 1921.



Web Resources

Yersinia pestis