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Squirrel With Bubonic Plague Forces Campground Closures

(Photo by IrinaK/Shutterstock)
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A ground squirrel in the Angeles National Forest has tested positive for bubonic plague, prompting several campgrounds to be closed for the public's safety.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health closed the Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow and Pima Loops of the Table Mountain campgrounds Wednesday as a precaution after a squirrel captured in a trap tested positive this week for the plague.

The sites will be closed for at least seven days.

Since the plague is spread to humans through infected fleas, squirrel burrows in the area will be dusted for fleas and further testing of the animals will be done before the area is reopened.

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Symptoms of the plague include enlarged lymph glands near the flea bite, as well as fever and chills. It can be fatal if untreated. Fortunately, since it's no longer the middle ages, antibiotics are usually effective against the disease that once ravaged Europe.

Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and Health Officer said in a press release, "It is important for the public to know that there have only been four cases of human plague in Los Angeles County residents since 1984, none of which were fatal." Whew!

Plague isn't unknown in the local squirrel population, with animals testing positive for the disease in the San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside, the Los Alamos campgrounds in Gorman and the Stoneyvale Picnic Area near La Cañada/Flintridge, officials said.

Last year, the dreaded hantavirus killed three people at Yosemite National Park because of infected deer mice.

Officials issued the following common-sense precautions to campers:

  • Do not feed wild animals or leave edible trash out where wild animals can get to it
  • Avoid camping or picnicking in the immediate vicinity of ground squirrel burrows
  • Avoid taking pets into areas where they could be exposed to fleas. If you must take your pet into areas with fleas, please ensure your pet has appropriate flea control and vaccinations, as recommended by a veterinarian.
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If you see a dead squirrel, or simply want more information, contact the L.A. County Department of Public Health at (626) 430-5450.
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