July 21, 2007

Bubonic Plague Found in Squirrel

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE -- A squirrel trapped at an Angeles National Forest picnic area has tested positive for bubonic plague, prompting county health officials to take precautions against the deadly disease.

The ground squirrel was trapped July 10 at the Stoneyvale Picnic Area about five miles north of La Canada Flintridge as part of routine disease monitoring, the county Department of Health said.

The picnic area has been dusted for fleas -- which can transmit the disease from rodents to humans -- and the area will be closed for at least 10 days.

Meanwhile, visitors were urged to avoid contact with wild animals that could be carrying plague-positive fleas.

Only one of 12 squirrels trapped earlier this month tested positive for the plague, which is endemic among ground squirrels in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Other potential carriers include chipmunks, deer mice, coyotes and, rarely, black bears, said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, director of public health at the county Department of Health.

Two plague-positive ground squirrels were found at the same picnic area in 1996, and one infected squirrel was found at the Vogel Flats campground in 1995. Yet there only have been four recorded cases of the disease in humans in L.A. County since 1984, Fielding said.

Symptoms of bubonic plague include enlargement of lymph glands near the flea bite and rapid onset of fever and chills. Untreated, it can progress to blood infection, and rarely, the lungs, causing pneumonic plague.

The disease can be treated with antibiotics.

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