Land Use Alternation Has Led to the Outbreak of Rodent Borne Plague in Africa

In East Africa , to be able to increase their production of maize, they decided to use their natural lands as croplands which has led to an alarming spread of bacterial diseases according to a study the was reported and published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

”We found that increases in maize production in natural areas appears to create a perfect storm for plague transmission.” stated Hillary S. Young, a study researcher and a community ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, adding that “The presence of the crop as a food source caused a surge in the population of a rodent species known to carry plague. Local farmers often then store this harvested corn next to or inside their homes — potentially baiting in the hungry field rats and increasing opportunities for human infection. These kind of conditions are what breed outbreaks.”

Developing agricultural land in East Africa has become more extensive reaching a 70% increase in the last several decades, researchers reported. The sudden move towards agriculture is believed to be the cause of an extremely aggressive disease in the region.

Young and colleagues examined eight species of rodent plague classifications in northern Tanzania in June and July 2011 just after the yearly increase of human plague issues. They have used a paired sampling design as researchers compared the rodent population and extensiveness of Yersinia pestis occurrences in altered agricultural fields and neighboring wilderness.

The difference of the severity in the rodent population on both settings is hardly noticeable, but the number of rodents with Y. pestis in agricultural areas was almost double than those found in the adjacent natural lands.

The quantity of Mastomys natalensis, or the common African rat, which consists 75% of all the seropositive rodents may have been the cause of the increase in Y. pestis occurrences. The maize production is involved with a 20% increase in population of M. natalensis, also a host for Lassa fever in other parts of Africa.

“We need to be aware that agricultural intensification in plague-endemic areas is likely to lead to outbreaks,” Young told the Infectious Disease News “Ideally, this would inform long-term land-use planning. In the immediate term, this can inform where plague surveillance is most needed. It also suggests that making small investments in changing crop storage in ways that reduce rodent access and the proximity of harvested crops to homes can provide large payoffs in terms of public health in plague-endemic areas.”

by  John Schoen


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