South Tahoe area issues rodent plague advisory
• 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.
• Cats can pose a higher risk of plague transmission to humans when they have contact with infected rodents. Keep cats away from rodents. Consult a veterinarian if your cat becomes sick after being in contact with rodents.
• If you get sick after having been in an area where plague is known to occur, consult a physician and tell them you may have been exposed to plague.
Warning: Be careful with pets around possible Bubonic plague-infected rodents.
Posted signs bearing plague-warning messages recently popped up on trails and areas around South Lake Tahoe and Meyers, even as state and local governments issue a new warning on the bubonic plague.
The California Department of Public Health supplied an update on ground squirrels and chipmunks that carry plague-infested fleas in El Dorado County on Aug. 19.
“While human cases of plague are fairly rare, there are many areas in California, including higher elevation areas of El Dorado County, where wild rodents have been found in the past to carry plague,” stated Karen Bender, supervisor with the El Dorado County Environmental Management Division, in an updated warning.
Jon Tekulve, a vector technician with the El Dorado Vector Control District in South Lake Tahoe, said warning signs are fairly routine. However, Tekulve noted that no cases have been reported this year.
The last positive report occurred last year, down from three reported in 2013, all in the South Lake Tahoe area.
However, reports of plague have surfaced in Yosemite in August.
The California Department of Public Health announced last week that a Georgia woman likely contracted Bubonic plague while visiting Yosemite National Park and nearby areas. Prior to that a child caught the plague while on a camping trip in Crane Flat in mid-July.
The park applied an insecticide to rodent burrows on Aug. 10 and 11.
Aside from two California cases, two Colorado residents contracted the plague and died from it earlier this year. One was a Larimer County teenager and the second was a man from Pueblo County.
Yosemite National Park also closed down its Tuolumne Meadows Campground for treatment.
Plague can be transmitted by flea-carrying or infected wild rodents.
It can be a dangerous disease in humans, but it can be treated with antibiotics if detected early. Symptoms manifest within two weeks, and include nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes.
Cheryl Millham with Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Inc., said warning signs can be misleading for dogs.
“They don’t affect dogs as much,” Millham said.
Millham said agencies used to kill rodents suspected of carrying the flea.
“Now they just dust the rodent holes,” Millham said. “Whenever a squirrel goes in and out, it just gets dusted and the fleas are killed.”
Millham advised that people shouldn’t sleep near suspected animal burrows. She additionally advised against handling dead or injured animals.
“Just because a squirrel looks injured doesn’t mean it’s safe to handle,” Millham said.
According to a state health reminder, cats pose a higher risk of plague transmission to humans when in contact with infected rodents.
El Dorado County urges concerned residents to contact the Environmental Management Department at 530-573-3450. In the South Lake Tahoe area, Vector Control can be contacted at 530-573-3450. Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care can be reached at 530-577-2273.
For more information about the plague and rodents, visit: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/HEALTHINFO/DISCOND/Pages/Plague.aspx