A new peanut-flavored vaccine: For prairie dogs? | PostIndependent.com

A new peanut-flavored vaccine: For prairie dogs?

Phil Mohler, M.D.
Free Press Health Columnist

They’re cute and harmless; they’re a threat to livestock; they spread the plague; one species is listed as “threatened.” Whatever you believe, prairie dogs frequently evoke strong opinions and at times, anger and fear.

Scientists estimate that prairie dogs now inhabit only 1-2% of their former range because of habitat loss, poisoning and a 90% mortality rate when plague infects their colonies. Plague is now considered widespread throughout the western states and may exist in a low level state in some prairie dog colonies.

Current efforts to halt the spread of plague in prairie dog colonies rely on labor intensive dusting of burrows with pesticides to kill plague-infested fleas. Now researchers at the University of Wisconsin have developed a plague vaccine for prairie dogs that can be delivered via an oral bait. It appears that the vaccine is 60%-70% effective in preventing the plague (effectiveness comparable to flu vaccine in humans) and persists for 9 months.

While still awaiting FDA final approval, field testing has revealed that fall applications of the vaccine work better than those applied in the spring and that prairie dogs love peanut butter-flavored vaccine!


Prairie dog colonies and the threat of plague are part of life in western Colorado. The last case of human plague occurred in Mesa County in 2005. A prairie dog from near Fruita tested positive in 2009. Since then the positive samples have come from coyotes in Mesa County. Regardless of which side of the burrow you are on, prairie dog wise, this new vaccine may be an important tool in preventing human cases of plague. Strategic use of this vaccine in prairie dog colonies in urban areas and campgrounds seems reasonable.

Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 38 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners and Rocky Mountain Health Plans.

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