Squirrel with bubonic plague closes campgrounds in Angeles National Forest

A baby squirrel is seen in Los Angeles, California on September 7, 2009. Recently, a plague-infected squirrel has prompted the closure of three campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest.
A baby squirrel is seen in Los Angeles, California on September 7, 2009. Recently, a plague-infected squirrel has prompted the closure of three campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest. Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

A plague-infected squirrel has prompted the closure of three campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest.

The compromised critter was trapped on July 16 — this week the animal tested positive for bubonic plague.

The disease is spread through flea bites and can be fatal if untreated. Bubonic plague symptoms "appear suddenly, usually after 2 - 5 days of exposure to the bacteria," according to the National Institute of Health:

SYMPTOMS OF THE PLAGUE (via NIH)

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • General ill feeling (malaise)
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Seizures
  • Smooth, painful lymph gland swelling called a bubo: 1) Commonly found in the groin, but may occur in the armpits or neck, most often at the site of the infection —bite or scratch 2) Pain may occur in the area before the swelling appears

TREATMENT FOR THE PLAGUE (via NIH)

People with the plague need immediate treatment. If treatment is not received within 24 hours of when the first symptoms occur, death may occur.

Antibiotics such as streptomycin, gentamicin, doxycycline, or ciprofloxacin are used to treat plague. Oxygen, intravenous fluids, and respiratory support usually are also needed.

AVOID THIS LOCATION LIKE THE PLAGUE

The Los Angeles Daily News reports Wednesday that some areas of the Table Mountain campground — located near Wrightwood about 50 miles northeast of L.A. — will be closed for at least a week while officials dust squirrel burrows in an effort to control fleas. The shutdown is in effect at the following camps:

  • Broken Blade
  • Twisted Arrow
  • Pima Loops

HOW TO STAY PLAGUE-FREE

The Los Angeles Public Health Department issued an advisory with tips on staying  plague-free and some encouraging words from Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health:

"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."

The advisory recommend that visitors to other recreational areas:

  • NOT feed wild animals
  • NOT  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)

Fielding says to protect yourself with an insect repellant that contains DEET if you plan on visiting the forest — products with DEET are not safe for pets, however.

I SEE A DEAD SQUIRREL. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

According to the advisory, members of the public who see dead ground squirrels in recreational areas should call the health department's "Vector Management Program" at (626) 430-5450.

This story has been updated.

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