Chipmunk flea tests positive for plague in South Lake Tahoe (updated) |

Chipmunk flea tests positive for plague in South Lake Tahoe (updated)

Caitlin Row
A flea taken from a yellow-pine chipmunk at Fallen Leaf Campground during routine testing in May tested positive for bubonic plague. The infectious agent is naturally occuring throughout the Sierra Nevada.
Courtesy / Lisa Herron |

Tips to prevent plague include the following:

• 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 posted 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; otherwise keep pets on a leash. Do not allow pets to approach sick or 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. Consult a veterinarian if your cat becomes sick after being in contact with rodents.

• If you get sick after being in an area where plague is known to occur, consult a physician and tell them you may have been exposed to plague.

Source: El Dorado County Health Department

A flea from a yellow pine chipmunk in South Lake Tahoe recently tested positive for bubonic plague. This follows another positive test result in the area late last summer.

“The flea was sampled from one of three rodents trapped in the Fallen Leaf Campground area during routine plague surveillance May 18,” an El Dorardo County’s environmental management and public health divisions news release said. “State test results confirming plague were received on June 2.”

According to Lisa Herron, U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit’s public affairs specialist, plague naturally occurs in the Sierra Nevadas and testing is done regularly. She also confirmed that more testing is being conducted this week at the Fallen Leaf Campground area.

The Tribune previously reported “that a dead squirrel found at a Kiva Beach picnic area — near the Tallac Historic Site — tested positive for plague in early September [2015]. 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.” El Dorado County additionally reported that “in 2014, two live rodents tested positive for plague antibodies and three tested positive in 2013. However, there were no reports of illness to people in El Dorado County. In the entire state of California, there were two human cases of plague in 2015 after exposure to infected rodents in Yosemite Valley. Both people were treated and recovered. These were the first reported human cases in the state since 2006.”

“People should be aware that this is something that can happen any time,” Herron said. “It can be an on-going thing. If you take steps to prevent exposure, then chances of exposure are small. I don’t think it’s something to be overly concerned about since it’s naturally occurring and does happen regularly.”

Awareness and preventative measures are suggested, however, to protect the health of people and pets living and visiting throughout the area.

Herron noted that not touching diseased or dead rodents is key to preventing plague infection. Campers should never sleep near animal burrows, and all pets should be kept on leashes to prevent wildlife interactions. To report a sick or dead rodent, call El Dorado County Environmental Management at 530-573-3450.

“We’ve been hearing reports for Kiva Beach and the Tallac Point area of dogs off leash,” Herron added. “Even though they’re on National Forest Land, they are under jurisdiction of El Dorado County, and the county does have a leash law; you’re supposed to keep dogs leashed at all times. It’s not just for pet safety. It’s also for other people’s safety and wildlife safety. It’s the considerate thing to do.”


El Dorado Health Department’s spokeswoman Margaret Williams confirmed naturally occurring plague along California’s mountainous and coastal areas.

“Plague is an infectious bacterial disease spread by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas,” an El Dorado County news release said. “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 by keeping pets away from rodent burrows.

“Symptoms of plague usually show up within two weeks of exposure to an infected animal or flea and include fever, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes. Plague can be effectively treated with antibiotics if detected early.”

According to Herron, “If you feel symptoms within a couple weeks of going home, tell your doctor where you’ve been so they can be aware. If your pets are acting strangely, or something is abnormal with them after you’ve visited an area [of concern], definitely let your vet know that you’ve been in an area that has naturally occurring plague.”

For more information about plague, visit

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