Fleas from an chipmunk found in the South Lake Tahoe area have tested positive for plague, according to El Dorado County public health officials.
The flea sample was from one of three rodents trapped in the Fallen Leaf Campground area during routine plague surveillance May 18, according to a county Public Health Division news release. State test results confirming plague were received June 2.
Warning signs are posted in the affected area, and people are advised to report dead or sick rodents. All campers upon checking in are provided with educational materials about plague. Health officials said they are not aware of any human contact with infected rodents in the Fallen Leaf area.
Plague is naturally present in many parts of California, including higher elevation areas of El Dorado County. Public health officials said additional plague testing is being performed this week in the Fallen Leaf Campground area.
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Plague is an infectious bacterial disease spread by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas. People can get plague when they are bitten by an infected flea or through close contact with an infected rodent or pet. Plague can be prevented by avoiding contact with wild rodents and keeping pets away from rodent burrows.
Symptoms of plague usually occur within two weeks of exposure to an infected animal or flea and include fever, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes. The disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics if detected early.
The California Department of Public Health routinely monitors rodent populations for plague activity and coordinates with county health officials. Last year in El Dorado County, a California ground squirrel at the Tallac Historic Site tested positive for plague in September. In 2014, two live rodents tested positive for plague antibodies and three tested positive in 2013. But officials said there were no reports of people becoming ill with plague in El Dorado County.
Statewide, there were two human cases of plague in 2015 after exposure to infected rodents in Yosemite Valley. Both were treated and recovered. Those were the first reported cases in California since 2006.
To prevent plague, public health officials advise:
- Do not feed squirrels, chipmunks or other wild rodents.
- Never touch sick, injured or dead rodents
- Do not camp, sleep or rest near animal burrows or areas where dead rodents are observed
- Look for and heed warning signs.
- Wear long pants tucked into boot tops, and spray insect repellent containing DEET on socks and pant cuffs to reduce exposure to fleas.
- Leave pets home if possible, or keep them on a leash. Do not allow pets to approach sick of dead rodents or explore rodent burrows. Protect pets with flea-control products.
- Pet cats are highly susceptible to plague and can pose a direct threat to humans. Keep cats away from rodents, and consult a veterinarian if a cat becomes sick after contact with rodents.
- Anyone who becomes sick after being in an area where plague is known to occur should consult a physician and tell the doctor of possible exposure to plague.
To report a sick or dead rodent, or for questions about plague, call El Dorado County Environmental Management at 530-573-3450. For more information about plague, see the California Department of Public Health website, www.cdph.ca.gov/HEALTHINFO/DISCOND/Pages/Plague.aspx.