Officials are warning California residents of a plague risk in parts of South Lake Tahoe after chipmunks were identified as being infected with a pathogen that causes the disease.
The Taylor Creek Visitor Center and Kiva Beach will be closed through Friday because chipmunks in the areas have tested positive for the plague, according to news reports.
The infected chipmunks did not have any known contact with people, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported Monday, citing El Dorado County spokesperson Carla Hass.
The Lake Tahoe Basin United States Forest Service said it will be treating the areas for plague abatement.
The Forest Service told the Daily Tribune that vector control eradication treatments will be completed Thursday and that the areas will likely reopen before the weekend.
The Tallac Site and Kiva Picnic parking area will stay open, and visitor center staff and volunteers will be at the Tallac Historic Site.
Chipmunks have tested positive for Yersinia pestis, a bacterium that causes plague, in the areas.
In California, the plague most often infects wild rodents such as ground squirrels and chipmunks but it can pass onto humans, cats and other animals who live in or visit areas where there are naturally infected wild rodents.
A resident of South Lake Tahoe tested positive for the plague last year, becoming the first case in the state in five years.
The plague can spread to humans through contact with the tissues or bodily fluids of an infected animal or from bites of infected fleas that live on wild rodents or in rodent burrows.
“Individuals can greatly reduce their risk of becoming infected with plague by taking simple precautions, including avoiding contact with wild rodents and their fleas,” said Interim El Dorado County Public Health Officer Dr. Bob Hartmann in a statement, noting elevated plague risk at the Taylor Creek Recreation Area. “Do not feed rodents in picnic or campground areas and never handle sick or dead rodents. Also, leave your pets at home when visiting areas with elevated plague risk.”
An average of seven people catch the plague each year in the U.S. in recent decades, with the bubonic form making up more than 80% of cases. Most of the human cases occur in northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern Oregon and far western Nevada.
Last month, public health officials in Colorado warned residents about plague activity after lab reports detected plague in animals and fleas from six counties, including LaPlata County, where a 10-year-old resident died from causes linked to the disease.
Rat-infested steamships that sailed mostly from Asia introduced plague into the U.S. in the 1900s, with epidemics breaking out in port cities.
Los Angeles experienced the U.S.’ last urban plague in 1924 through 1925, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plague then spread from urban rats to rural rodent species and settled in many parts of the western U.S.
Half of human plague cases occur in people ages 12 to 45 although it can affect individuals of all ages. While it infects men and women, it historically has been slightly more common among men, the CDC says.
Symptoms include nausea, chills, high fever, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, neck or groin.
Although a serious illness, plague can be treated with commonly available antibiotics.
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