Bubonic Plague found in Riverside County ground squirrel, first reported case in nearly a decade

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Riverside County health officials say they’ve trapped a ground squirrel in the San Jacinto Mountains that's tested positive for bubonic plague, an infectious disease that can spread to humans through the bites of infected fleas.

Officials trapped the infected squirrel at Fern Basin campground near Idyllwild during routine disease testing of rodents on September 6, the first case of the plague in about ten years, says Dottie Merki, spokeswoman for the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health.

The last cases of humans becoming infected in California happened in April of 2006 in Los Angeles County and June of 2006 in Inyo County, says Ronald Owens, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health.

Merki says a blood test of the trapped ground squirrel indicated it was exposed to bubonic plague, even though it showed no symptoms of the bacterial disease, which is endemic (naturally-occurring) in many parts of California.

"I think people just have to be reminded it is in the area an use precautions and it’s something to be aware of but not afraid of," says Merki. She cautions visitors to avoid touching or feeding wild animals, to set up tents away from ground squirrel burrows and, if possible, to leave pets at home when visiting the area as a way to - reduce the likelihood they'll catch fleas infected with the plague.

Bubonic plague occurs throughout the United States. It does not spread from person to person. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that symptoms include swollen, tender lymph glands, fever, headache, chills and weakness. In extreme cases the plague can cause death.

For more information about bubonic plague go to the CDC's fact page at: