That cute little chipmunk you might have seen up at Tahoe the other day isn’t so cute since he tested “presumptive positive” — that is likely infected with Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes plague.
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In a statement issued by the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Health, locals and visitors are being warned of the possibility of plague in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
California’s Department of Public Health notified the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Health that a chipmunk found last week at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center in South Lake Tahoe had indications suggestive of plague, the statement reads in part.
“The Taylor Creek Recreation Area may have an elevated plague risk. Fall visitors to area picnic spots and campgrounds and area residents should take precautions to protect themselves from plague, a disease transmitted by infected fleas,” Interim County Public Health Officer Dr. Bob Hartmann advised Thursday.
“Individuals can greatly reduce their risk of becoming infected with plague by taking simple precautions, including avoiding contact with wild rodents and their fleas,” Hartmann said. “Do not feed rodents in picnic or campground areas and never handle sick or dead rodents. Also, leave your pets at home when visiting areas with elevated plague risk.”
The following description can be found on the CDPH Website:
“Plague is a highly infectious bacterial disease which affects primarily rodents. Humans and other animals can get plague if they visit or live in areas where wild rodents are naturally infected. People can get plague in several ways. The most important routes of transmission are:
BITES FROM FLEAS OF INFECTED RODENTS
Hungry fleas will leave a sick or dead rodent to bite another animal, including humans.
DIRECT CONTACT WITH SICK RODENTS
Plague bacteria in the blood or tissues of an infected animal can enter through cuts and scrapes in the skin or through the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Cats with plague pneumonia can spread plague bacteria when they cough or sneeze.”
Early symptoms of plague include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin. Individuals who develop these symptoms within two weeks of possible exposure should seek immediate medical attention and inform the physician that they have been in a plague endemic area.
Plague is curable in its early stages with prompt diagnosis and proper treatment, but may be fatal if not treated early. If a pet becomes sick after visiting an area, take the pet to a veterinarian and inform the vet that the pet has been in an area where rodents have plague.
The US Forest Service is working with El Dorado County and CDPH to educate the public. State and local health officials regularly monitor plague-prone areas. Additional rodent surveillance will be done in the area this week by CDPH, with assistance from El Dorado County Environmental Management and Vector Control, in order to assess public risk.
People should report any sick or dead animals to forest, campground or local health officials. Avoid walking, hiking or camping near rodent burrows. Wear long pants tucked into boot tops to reduce exposure to fleas. Apply insect repellent containing DEET on socks and trouser cuffs. Keep wild rodents out of homes, trailers and outbuildings. For protection of pets, keep pets leashed and away from dead rodents.
To report a sick or dead rodent, contact El Dorado County Vector Control at 530-573-3197. For more information on plague in California, visit the following Website: cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/discond/Pages/Plague.aspx.
The CDPH notes that plague is “endemic” that is, it occurs naturally in many mountain, foothill and rural regions of the state and in some suburban foothills of larger cities. Plague is absent from the southeastern desert and the central valleys, and has not occured in urban and developed areas of California for nearly 100 years, according to the CDPH.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.