Rodents near Kiva beach test positive for plague
Bubonic plague is endemic in rodent populations near the Tallac Estates-Kiva Beach area, according to lab results released Wednesday.
Blood samples for a third of the 27 rodents tested positive for the disease at the California Department of Health Services Microbial Laboratory.
The El Dorado County Environmental Management Department captured a roughly equal number of chipmunks and ground squirrels near the U.S. Forest Service Visitors Center off Highway 89. The testing followed confirmation that a dead chipmunk found July 7 had the disease.
“It doesn’t surprise me. It suggests an ongoing infection,” said department spokeswoman Virginia Huber.
Plague is a bacterial disease spread by rodents and their fleas, which can carry the infection to other warm-blooded animals including humans. Symptoms of the disease include sudden high fever, swelling of the lymph glands or development of reddened, painful swellings in the groin, armpits, neck, or elsewhere in the body.
While mortality is high in untreated cases, early treatment with antibiotics is very effective. Dogs have developed an immunity to the plague but humans haven’t done so well, said James Tucker, a biologist with the California Department of Health Services.
“We’ve had vets die from it,” Tucker said. A South Lake Tahoe woman died 21 years ago after her cat brought home an infected squirrel.
Although ground squirrels are apt to carry more fleas, eight of the positive tests came from chipmunks, which tend to live in tree trunks.
Still, Tucker said, squirrels die from the disease more often and have more contact with humans.
The county dusted insecticide in squirrel burrows near the visitors center Tuesday, and signs have been posted warning hikers and bikers. No additional measures are planned, Forest Service spokeswoman Linda Massey said.
Although hard data has only been collected from rodents living in an isolated area, Huber suggested citizens should be “increasing the awareness for the entire South Lake Tahoe area.”
Huber said the county has received many calls on the matter, mostly from people asking what to do. Anyone who sees a sick or dead rodent is asked to report it to the Environmental Management Department at 530-573-3197.
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