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Xenopsylla cheopis, the Oriental rat flea, is best known as the vector for the bacteria Yersinia pestis from rats to humans, and for spreading the resulting plague (black death) across Asia and Europe in the middle ages. Today the Oriental rat flea can be found in temperate climates, but more often inhabits warm, tropical and subtropical regions, since it needs warm temperatures to pupate. Like all fleas, Xenopsylla cheopis has mouthparts adapted to cutting through skin and sucking up blood that has pooled. In feeding, it secretes saliva into the wound to prevent the blood from coagulating. Along with the saliva, the flea secretes any bacteria it may have picked up by eating the blood of an infected individual into the host. When Y. pestis pathogens enter the gut of the flea, they multiply quickly, blocking food from entering the digestive system. This triggers the hungry flea to bite a new host, further spreading the bacteria. The Oriental rat flea uses many different mammals as hosts, including rats and humans, and is known also to carry the murine typhus pathogen (Rickettsia typhi) and the mouse and rat tapeworms (Hymenolepis diminut and H. nana). (Trivedi 2003; Wikipedia 2012)


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