Plague In Squirrels Prompts Calif. Campground Closure After Rodent Tests Positive For Bubonic Infection [VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on July 26, 2013 12:48 PM EDT

plague squirrels
A plague in squirrels was discovered in the Angeles National Forest campground in southern California. (Photo: Reuters)

A plague in squirrels in southern California prompted officials to close a number of campgrounds in Angeles National Forest, a popular camping destination located about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, after health officials found that one squirrel tested positive for bubonic plague.

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"It is the plague," Dr. Mark Dimenna, deputy of the Environmental Health Department, told local TV reporters from KOAT 7. "It is the bubonic plague, the Black Death. It's the same organism that it always has been."

According to ABC News, Los Angeles officials have closed the campgrounds while investigators test other squirrels for the infection and dust the area for fleas, which spread the bacteria. The campgrounds will be closed for at least seven days.

ITN reports that five squirrels have been found to carry the plague since the mid-1990s. Still, human cases of the bubonic plague, which killed some 25 million people in medieval Europe, are few and far between.

"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," Jonathan E. Fielding, head of the health department, said in an advisory.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, the bubonic plague in humans causes a sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache and weakness. Most notably, it causes swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes. The plague first came to the U.S. in 1900, having traveled on rat-infested steamships from infected areas, mainly from Asia.

Between 1900 and 2010, there were 999 confirmed cases of plague in humans. Most of these infections occurred in rural areas of northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California and southern Oregon. The very first outbreak occurred in San Francisco, in 1900, where 172 people died from the infection. From the CDC:

Plague epidemics have occurred in Africa, Asia, and South America but most human cases since the 1990s have occurred in Africa. Almost all of the cases reported in the last 20 years have occurred among people living in small towns and villages or agricultural areas rather than in larger towns and cities. Between 1,000 and 2,000 cases each year are reported to the World Health Organization.

The last major urban outbreak of bubonic plague in the U.S. occurred in Los Angeles in 1924 to 1925. The infection killed 37 people over a two-month period.

If left untreated, the bacterium that causes bubonic plague can travel to other parts of the body like the blood and lungs. Fatalities, while rare, can occur, but most people respond well to antibiotic treatments.

 

ITN reports on the plague squirrels in this video uploaded to YouTube:

Read more from iScience Times:

Yosemite Hantavirus Outbreak: Cathy Carrillo Sues Park After Contracting Deadly Rodent Virus; What Were Her Symptoms?

New Fossil With 'Squirrely' Tail Suggests All Predatory Dinosaurs May Have Had Feathers

Caterpillar Invasion: London Street Plagued By Bird-Cherry Ermines [VIDEO]

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