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Published On: Sat, May 11th, 2013

San Diego County: Squirrel tests positive for plague on Palomar Mountain

San Diego County Environmental Health (DEH) officials are advising campers and hikers to take extra care as a ground squirrel trapped at the Cedar Grove Campground on Palomar Mountain tested positive for plague, or Yersinia pestis, the first such case in 2013.

Credits:   J. Delavan/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Credits: J. Delavan/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Department of Environmental Health Director Jack Miller said it’s not unusual to find plague in local mountains during warmer months — and that people could take simple steps to protect themselves from exposure.

“The big thing is to avoid contact with squirrels and the fleas that they can carry,” Miller said. “Campers should set up tents away from squirrel burrows, and hikers and campers should never feed squirrels and warn their children not to play with squirrels.”

The DEH posted warning signs in areas where the rodent test positive for plague.

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium,Yersinia pestis. It is found in animals throughout the world, most commonly rats, but other rodents like ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, rabbits and voles. Fleas typically serve as the vector of plague. Human cases have been linked to the domestic cats and dogs that brought infected fleas into the house.

Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague. In this form, the bacteria typically enter the body through the bite of an infected flea or rodent. Here the bacteria infect the lymphatic system. After a few days to week, the person will experience fever, chills, weakness, and swollen lymph glands. These are called buboes. Untreated bubonic plague is fatal about half the time.

Yersinia pestis is treatable with antibiotics if started early enough.

Visitors, hikers and campers in rural mountain areas should look for these signs and always follow these easy precautions to prevent contact with fleas:

• Avoid contact with ground squirrels, chipmunks, and other wild animals.

• Do not feed, touch or handle wild animals.

• Do not rest, camp or sleep near animal burrows in the ground.

• Protect pets by keeping them on a leash, use flea control, or best of all, leave pets at home.

• Contact your doctor immediately if you become ill within one week of visiting a known plague area.

• Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, chills and tender swollen lymph nodes.

• Do not touch sick or dead animals.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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