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Lancet Infect Dis. 2006 Apr;6(4):234-41.

Yersinia pestis as a telluric, human ectoparasite-borne organism.

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Unité des Rickettsies CNRS UMR 6020, IRF 48, Faculté de Médecine, Université de la Méditerranée, Marseille, France.


The classic epidemiological model of plague is an infection of rodents that is transmitted to human beings by rodent ectoparasites. This model fits with observations of sporadic and limited outbreaks, but hardly explains the persistence of plague foci for millennia or the epidemiological features drawn from the descriptions of historical pandemics. A comprehensive review of the published data, including scientific papers published in France between 1920 and 1940, allows the completion of the epidemiological chain by introducing soil as a reservoir, burrowing rodents as a first link, and human ectoparasites as the main driving force for pandemics. Modern studies are needed to confirm the validity of this controversial model and to assess the relative contribution of each link in the various epidemiological presentations of plague. If confirmed, these data should be taken into account to update public-health policies and bioterrorism risk management, particularly among ectoparasite-infested people.

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