The U.S. Forest Service is advising visitors to take precautions against plague after a chipmunk found at Taylor Creek Visitor Center tested positive for the disease.
Chances of human infection of plague are minimal with proper precautions, according to a Wednesday statement from the agency.
"Plague is a rare, but highly infectious bacterial disease that is spread by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas," according to the statement. "It is naturally occurring in many parts of California and is most common in rural and undeveloped mountain regions."
The disease can be transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected flea, handling an infected rodent or exposure to an infected cat. The symptoms are similar to the flu, including rapid onset of a high fever, head and muscle aches, chills, nausea, weakness, cough, chest pain and painful swollen lymph glands.
Plague is curable in its early stages with prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Individuals who develop these symptoms within two weeks after visiting the area should seek immediate medical attention and inform the physician that they have been in a plague endemic area, according to the statement. If a pet becomes sick after visiting the area, take the pet to a veterinarian and inform the vet that the pet has been in an area where the rodents have plague.
Visitors should avoid all contact with squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas, according to the statement.
The Forest Service recommends people not to camp, sit or sleep on the ground next to rodent burrows or feed rodents in campgrounds and picnic areas. Food and garbage should be stored in rodent-proof containers. The Forest Service also recommends wearing long pants tucked into boots and use insect repellant to avoid flea exposure.
Pets should be confined, kept on a leash or left at home if possible, according to the statement. Pets should not be allowed to approach sick or dead rodents or explore rodent burrows and should be protected with flea control products.
"The safety of our visitors and employees is our number one priority," said Nancy Gibson, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit's Forest Supervisor, in the statement. "We are working closely with the California Department of Public Health and the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Health and will follow whatever precautions they recommend."
The Forest Service and its concessionaire have posted signage in the area of the visitor center, the Tallac Historic Site and Camp Richardson Resort explaining how the disease is transmitted, the symptoms and how to prevent infection. The Forest Service is advising its staff and visitors to report any sick or dead animals immediately.
Because the chipmunk was found at a heavily visited site, the California Department of Public Health, with assistance from El Dorado County Environmental Management and Vector Control, will be trapping and testing rodents in the area. The Forest Service is awaiting further recommendations from CDPH based on the results. Winter conditions decrease rodent activity and most recreation sites will soon close for the season.
For more information on plague in California, visit http://www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/discond/Pages/Plague.aspx or call -916-552-9730. To report a sick or dead rodent, contact El Dorado County Vector Control at 530-573-3197.