Plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, remains a human health risk. The disease circulates in rodent populations and can be a major health threat in developing nations with large tracts of undeveloped lands where small mammal populations can be quite large. Historically, Azerbaijan defined large areas of the country as supporting populations of Meriones libycus, a small mammal that serves as the primary plague reservoir in the country and the country had major efforts to control the species and to survey for the pathogen. As the former Soviet Union collapsed, funding for such programs became limited. As part of SEER Lab’s collaboration with the Republican Anti-Plague Station in Baku, Azerbaijan, we created a GIS of historical records from the 1970s and 1980s to analyze space-time patterns of M. libycus in the lowland plague focus. We used space-time analyses to identify areas of rodent population stability across years, defined the ecological conditions associated with stability, and compared these areas to human population growth. While these efforts cannot replace current surveillance efforts to identify rodent populations with Y. pestis, these results identify priority areas to target surveillance. Specifically, we identify areas of historically high mammal abundance and the proximity of those areas to increasing human population. These are areas where spillover from rodents to humans may be most likely and where surveillance efforts that monitor mammals should focus. This work was published in the Journal of Applied Geography in the December 2013 issue.
This work was funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Cooperative Biological Engagement Program in Azerbaijan.
For more information on this study contact:
Lillian R. Morris, Graduate Research Assistant, 352-294-2737
Dr. Jason K. Blackburn, SEER Lab Director 352-294-7501 or 352-273-9374