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It’s Not Just Fleas

In response to:

'The First Great Pandemic in History' from the May 29, 2008 issue

To the Editors:

Eamon Duffy’s review of Lester K. Little’s Plague and the End of Antiquity [NYR, May 29] provides an excellent account of current scholarship on the Justinian plague, but he sets the bar too high when it comes to transmission of the disease. Rats are not the only mammal providing a reservoir for the disease; mice, gerbils, and voles do, too. Indeed, although the flea, Xenopsylla cheopis, is the best-known vector, thirty other species can serve. So let’s move away from particular fleas and rodents to see what more researchers can find out about these terrible epidemics.

Bruce Fetter

Department of History

University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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