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Plague squirrel closes Wrightwood-area campgrounds

Posted: July 26, 2013 9:20 a.m.
Updated: July 26, 2013 9:20 a.m.

Three national park campgrounds in the Wrightwood area were closed for at least a week Thursday after tests determined a squirrel trapped in the area tested positive for bubonic plague.

Los Angeles County public health officials said squirrel burrows near the campgrounds would be dusted for fleas, and further trapping and testing of squirrels would be done before the campgrounds were reopened.

“Plague is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, which is why we close affected campgrounds and recreational areas as a precaution while preventive measures are taken to control the flea population,” said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, 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.”

Plague has been known to reside in the ground squirrel population in the San Gabriel Mountains. It was found in a squirrel trapped at a campground near Gorman in 2010, in two squirrels trapped near a La Canada-Flintridge picnic area in 2007 and 1996, and at another campground in 1995.

The single ground squirrel that tested positive for the disease was trapped July 16 during routine surveillance activities in the Table Mountain Campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest, health officials said.

Transmission of plague through flea bites causes bubonic plague, with symptoms including enlargement of lymph glands (buboes) near the flea bite and rapid onset of fever and chills.

Untreated bubonic plague can progress to infection of the blood, or rarely, the lungs, causing pneumonic plague.
All forms of the disease can be fatal if not treated; however, most patients respond well to antibiotic therapy.

Visitors to recreational areas should 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, and should 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.

“Protection with an insect repellant containing DEET is also recommended for persons visiting the Angeles National Forest and engaging in outside recreational activities in other areas of L.A. County,” said Fielding.

“Insect repellant can help protect people against fleas, mosquitoes, and ticks. Products containing DEET are not safe for use on pets.”




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