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Squirrel Tests Positive for Plague in Riverside County

Positive test for squirrel exposed to plague bacteria is the first in Riverside County in almost 10 years, county health officials said Tuesday.

For the first time in almost a decade, a ground squirrel in the San Jacinto Mountains has tested positive for exposure to fleas infected with bacteria that can cause plague, county officials said Tuesday.

State health officials notified the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health about results from a squirrel the department collected Sept. 6 at the Fern Basin campground during routine testing. The campground is north of Idyllwild.

County health officials said the risk of transmission to humans is minimal if people take proper precautions. Plague is a bacterial disease that can be transmitted from wild rodents to humans through bites from infected fleas. Historically, positive test results have occurred routinely among ground squirrels in the mountain region. Despite positive tests in other California counties and regular, routine testing locally, Riverside County has had no positive tests for almost a decade. Further tests on animals in the area will be conducted this month.

U.S. Forest Service officials and the campground host were notified about the test results so that campers can be educated about taking proper precautions. County officials ensured that warning signs are clearly posted and recommend that visitors, hikers and campers follow the precautions to prevent contact with fleas, including:

  • Avoid contact with ground squirrels, tree squirrels and other wild animals.
  • Do not feed or touch wild animals, or touch dead animals.
  • Do not rest or camp near animal burrows.
  • Protect your pets by leaving them at home, or by keeping them on a leash and using flea-control methods.
  • Contact your doctor immediately if you become ill after visiting a known plague area. Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, chills and tender swollen lymph nodes.

For more information, contact Dottie Merki, Environmental Health program chief at 951-358-5172.

—Riverside County news release

LBV Collins October 10, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Peachy... just peachy. First our gas prices spike, and now we have to deal with bubonic plague. <sheesh!>

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