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Home National & State Parks Grand Canyon Plague Confirmed as Cause of Death of Wildlife Biologist Eric York At Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona: Grand Canyon

Plague Confirmed as Cause of Death of Wildlife Biologist Eric York At Grand Canyon National Park

Plague is considered endemic in northern Arizona at elevations above 4,500 feet

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Plague was confirmed as the cause of death of Eric York, a 37-year-old National Park Service (NPS) wildlife biologist who was found dead Nov. 2, 2007, in his residence on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

Tests were conducted by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Additional CDC tests also determined that the strain of plague that infected York was the same strain of plague that infected a mountain lion with whom York had had direct and recent contact. These tests support other evidence that the mountain lion was the source for York's infection.

York's symptoms were consistent with pneumonic plague, the most serious, but least common form of plague. In rare cases, pneumonic plague can spread person to person through aerosolized respiratory droplets (e.g. coughing, sneezing). According to the CDC, transmission of plague from person to person has not been observed in the United States since 1924.

Plague is a rare, but sometimes fatal, disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is primarily a disease of animals, but it can be transmitted to humans through the bites of rodent fleas, or by direct contact with infected animals, the NPS said.

York had direct contact with both wild rodents and mountain lions, which put him at a higher risk for plague than other park staff and the general public, the NPS said.

Plague is considered endemic in northern Arizona at elevations above 4,500 feet, according to the NPS. While an average of one or two human cases of plague are reported each year in Arizona, there were no human cases reported from 2001 through 2006 in the state.

In 2007, however, there had been an increase in plague activity in Arizona, the NPS said.

They included one human case, who survived, and was reported in Apache County; prairie dog colony die-offs in two separate neighborhoods in Flagstaff (Coconino County) that were confirmed to be from plague; and a domestic pet cat from north of Prescott (Yavapai County) that also was documented as infected with plague.

Eric York's Life Honored

A ceremony celebrating the life of York and his work was conducted at Grand Canyon National Park on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007. The ceremony was held at sunset at Yaki Point on Grand Canyon's South Rim.

Along with NPS officials, and friends of York, members of York's family, including his father Tony York, and his sister Andrea Stoltzfus, traveled to Grand Canyon to attend the ceremony.

The NPS said it is collaborating with its public health partners to assess the risk for plague and other zoonotic diseases at Grand Canyon National Park. Public health officials from the NPS, the CDC, ADHS and the Coconino County Health Department were all instrumental in this incident.

For more information on plague and for tips on prevention, visit the CDC Web site at
www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/plague/index.htm .


Plague has been confirmed as the cause of death for wildlife biologist Eric York who died Nov. 2 at Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo


 
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