Plague-carrying squirrel causes California campground closures

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plague squirrels bubonic

LOS ANGELES (PIX11) – A squirrel infected with the bubonic plague was found in a Los Angeles forest, causing the closure of several campgrounds this week.

U.S. Forestry Service officials confirmed that a ground squirrel trapped on July 16th tested positive for the plague on July 23rd.  Three campgrounds will be closed for at least a week, according to a release, as the area is quarantined and more animals are tested.

“Plague is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, which is why we close affected campgrounds and recreational areas as a precaution while preventive measures are taken to control the flea population,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and Health Officer. “It is important for the public to know that there have only been four cases of human plague in Los Angeles County residents since 1984, none of which were fatal.”

This is not the first time the plague has been found in Los Angeles-area squirrels, in 2010, 2007, 1996 and 1995 routine checks of the animals came back positive for the potentially deadly infection.  Preliminary symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, fever and chills.  If left untreated the plague can progress to infection of the blood and lungs, which, if left untreated, is almost always fatal.  Most people, however, will survive if treated with antibiotics.

The latest rodent-born health scare comes after an outbreak of hantavirus in Yosemite that infected 10 people and killed three.  The hantavirus, born by deer mice, is generally passed by humans who inhale infected particles passed in the animal’s feces or urine.