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12-Year Old Child Catches The Plague During Visit To Yosemite

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Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls reflecting in the Merced River at sunset in Yosemite National Park, California (Photo by Nickolay Stanev via Shutterstock)
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A young child visiting Yosemite fell ill with the bubonic plague, making it the first human case in California in nine years.The child, who's from Los Angeles County, is now recovering after catching the disease after a mid-July trip in Yosemite. Public health officials are now looking for the source of the infection in Yosemite National Park, Stanislaus National Forest and surrounding areas after the child's family went on a camping trip to the Crane Flat Campground inside the national park. The disease is typically not contagious between humans, and the rest of the family has not shown any symptoms, according to the L.A. Times.

Plague is typically transmitted to humans by fleas that were on sick animals—usually rodents and squirrels.

"Although this is a rare disease, people should protect themselves from infection by avoiding any contact with wild rodents," said Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health, in a statement. "Never feed squirrels, chipmunks or other rodents in picnic or campground areas, and never touch sick or dead rodents. Protect your pets from fleas and keep them away from wild animals."

In response to the case, Yosemite will be handing out information to visitors about avoiding the plague and signs will be posted in the areas near Crane Flat. "We might never be able to determine where the child contracted plague," a Danielle Buttke, a public health officer with the National Park Service told the O.C. Register. "It's endemic throughout the Sierra Nevada foothills."

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Indeed, it is not unusual for small mammals throughout rural and wilderness areas of California to be detected with the plague. In 2013, campgrounds in Angeles National Forest were closed after plague was detected in a ground squirrel, and several counties across California detected plague in 2014.

Since 1970, there have been a total of 42 cases in the state, with 9 fatalities. The last cases were in 2005 and 2006 in Mono, Los Angeles and Kern counties, according to KRON, and in those cases all three patients survived.

The plague is the same disease that killed up to 200 million people in Medieval Europe during the 14th Century "Black Death." Patients experience high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin. It is treatable when detected early. On Tuesday, a man died in Colorado after catching the disease.