Tests confirm Grand Canyon biologist died of plague
Tests done by federal health officials have confirmed that a wildlife biologist at Grand Canyon National Park died of the plague.
Eric York, 37, died Nov. 2 in his home at the Grand Canyon. He had done a necropsy on a mountain lion a few days earlier, and tests on the big cat show it too had died of the plague.
After suspecting plague in York’s death, National Park Service officials began precautionary antibiotic treatment of nearly 50 people. None became ill.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that York had the identical strain of the bacterial disease as the dead cougar.
York, whose family lives in Massachusetts, had worked in the Grand Canyon for two years. He had previously worked for state parks in California and had traveled to Nepal, Chile and Pakistan to work with protected animals.
Health officials in Arizona warned in September that the plague appeared to be on the rise and that more cases were likely after an Apache County woman survived an infection with the disease.
That case, the first human infection reported in Arizona since 2000, came after the discovery of an outbreak in prairie dogs in Flagstaff in August.
Plague is transmitted primarily by fleas and direct contact with infected animals. When the disease causes pneumonia, it can be transmitted from an infected person to a noninfected person by airborne cough droplets.
Cases are treatable with antibiotics, but the CDC reports that up to 50% are fatal if the disease causes pneumonia.