Lake Tahoe U.S. Forest Service plague update
Plague prevention tips
Do not feed or handle rodents
Leave sick injured or dead rodents
Do not camp near rodent burrows
Heed warning signs
Keep pets from rodents
Report dead or sick animals
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — With a ground squirrel recently testing positive for bubonic plague in the South Shore area, U.S. Forest Service, state and El Dorado County health department officials are urging caution, but they say a human infection is unlikely with proper precautions.
“It’s not common for people to get plague,” said Karen Bender, supervising environmental health specialist for El Dorado County. “We just want to continue public awareness about plague. We don’t want people to stop visiting.”
The California Department of Health (CDPH) reported that a dead squirrel found at a Kiva Beach picnic area — near the Tallac Historic Site — tested positive for plague in early September. Following the test the Forest Service — in conjunction with state and county public health officials — briefly closed several South Shore sites on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in order to conduct pesticide treatments on a number of rodent burrows.
“The application of the pesticides went well,” Tahoe Basin Forest Service public affairs specialist Lisa Herron said. “The sites are all back open again.”
The pesticides that were used were designed to kill the type of rodent-specific flea that carries plague, not the rodents themselves.
“It’s not really spraying,” Bender explained of the process. “It’s an application of dust” in rodent burrows and bait traps. The traps that apply the dust are expected to remain in the area for another week.
Subsequent testing of 10 dead squirrels in and around the South Shore came back negative. Some live testing at Kiva Beach yielded positive results, but the findings are not a cause for public concern.
Plague is naturally occurring at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, and it requires direct contact with rodents or their fleas for humans to contract the disease.
To date, there have been no recent human cases in the Tahoe Basin. Two people contracted the disease near Yosemite earlier this year. They were the first reported cases in California since 2006. If caught early, plague can be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms include fever, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes and typically show within the first two weeks of exposure to an infected animal or flea.
The CDPH routinely monitors rodent populations for plague throughout California. The group reported that there have not been any cases of dogs contracting the disease; but because of more interaction with rodents cats are susceptible. They can contract the disease and pass it on to humans.
Forest Service and health department officials said, however, that chances of human infection are minimal.
“As long as you take the proper precautions, its not something to be overly concerned about,” Herron explained.
People should remember not to feed squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents. Never touch sick injured or dead animals, and refrain from camping near rodent burrows. Should a person have symptoms, it’s important to notify a doctor that he or she was in a region where plague is present.
Cautionary signs will remain posted through out the area, especially in regions where positive results were found.
Bender said people should contact local officials if they come across a dead rodent that shows no signs of how it died.
“If a squirrel looks like it dropped dead and didn’t have any injury to it,” Bender said, then it should be reported. “We want to encourage people to call us if they see a dead rodent that might be questionable.”
Roadkill animals are not of concern.
More information on plague, symptoms and exposure can be found at the California Department of Public health’s website, http://www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo.