Lab results show chipmunk carried plague
Lab results confirmed Friday a chipmunk found near the Tallac Estates-Kiva Beach area died of bubonic plague, county officials warned.
A U.S. Forest Service worker found the rodent’s body near the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Visitors Center off Highway 89 July 7 and submitted it to the El Dorado County Environmental Management Department.
Two days later, the county turned it over to the California Department of Health Services Microbial Laboratory. The state held it for observation and notified the county of its positive findings last week.
The body of another rodent was found near Fallen Leaf Campground and submitted to the lab last week, but county officials are doubtful the state will be able to make accurate findings on this case because the body was severely decomposed. Results are due within the week.
Signs in the Tallac Estates region have been posted to caution hikers to refrain from having contact with rodents in the Lake Tahoe area.
Plague is an infectious bacterial disease spread by rodents and their fleas, which can carry the infection to other warm-blooded animals including humans.
People may also be exposed through contact with their pets. Cats are highly susceptible to infection.
“If the rodent dies, the fleas will jump onto the next warm body,” said Virginia Huber, Tahoe Division manager for the environmental management unit.
Early symptoms of plague include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen glands in the neck, armpit or groin. It’s curable through antibiotics in the early stages if one seeks medical attention, but it could be fatal if left untreated.
Huber stressed the need for the community to heed this notice and take the county’s advice with a reasonable amount of caution. Her department has issued a warning to visitors to be aware of the health concern and recommendations for nearby residents to follow as precautionary measures.
A 47-year-old South Lake Tahoe woman died in October 1980 from an advanced form of bubonic plague. Susan Gamlin came down with pneumonic plague from her cat when the animal caught an infectious squirrel. There is no record of dogs contracting this type of plague.
The day care center director’s temperature surged to 103 degrees, and she developed a gastrointestinal flu along with a urinary tract infection.
This highly-contagious plague that harbors in the respiratory system is transmitted through coughing and sneezing. It’s 90 percent fatal if not treated in time.
The incident – believed to be the first case of plague pneumonia by state health officials since a Los Angeles outbreak in 1924 – required 150 South Shore children and adults to undergo preventive medical treatment.
Anyone who sees a sick or dead rodent is asked to report it to the environmental management department’s vector control division at (530) 573-3197.
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