Health & Medicine

Dead squirrel in South Lake Tahoe tests positive for plague

El Dorado County health officials urge people to be cautious around wild rodents after a squirrel in the South Lake Tahoe area tested positive for plague.

The dead California ground squirrel was found at the Kiva picnic area adjacent to the Tallac Historic Site on Aug. 17, according to a news release from the county’s Public Health Division. The squirrel was sent to the state laboratory for testing. Test results received Wednesday confirmed that the squirrel had plague.

Health officials said they are not aware of any human contact with the squirrel. Warning signs have been posted in the affected area, and people are advised to report any dead or sick rodents.

“Plague is naturally present in many parts of California, including higher elevation areas of El Dorado County, so we need to be cautious around animals that can carry it,” Karen Bender, supervisor of the county’s Environmental Management Division, said in a written statement.

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 animal. Plague can be prevented by avoiding contact with wild rodents and areas where fleas are noted, and by keeping pets away from rodent burrows, health officials said.

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. It can be effectively treated with antibiotics if detected early, health officials said.

The California Department of Public Health routinely monitors rodent populations for plague activity in California and closely coordinates with county health officials. Two live rodents in El Dorado County tested positive for plague antibodies in 2014, and three tested positive in 2013, according to the news release. There were no reports of illness to people.

So far this year, two human cases of plague have been reported with exposure in California. Both people were treated and recovered, officials said. They were the first reported human cases in the state since 2006.

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, go to www.cdph.ca.gov/HEALTHINFO/DISCOND/Pages/Plague.aspx.

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