South Lake Tahoe, Calif. – The U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is advising visitors to its recreation sites to take precautions against plague after a chipmunk found at Taylor Creek Visitor Center tested positive for the disease. Acting on the recommendations of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the Forest Service and its concessionaire have posted extensive signage in the area of Taylor Creek Visitor Center, the Tallac Historic Site, and Camp Richardson Resort explaining how the disease is transmitted, the symptoms and how to prevent infection. The Forest Service is advising its staff and visitors to report any sick or dead animals immediately.
Because the chipmunk was found at a heavily visited site, CDPH, with assistance from El Dorado County Environmental Management and Vector Control, will be trapping and testing rodents in the area. The Forest Service is awaiting further recommendations from CDPH based on the results. Winter conditions decrease rodent activity and most recreation sites will soon close for the season.
“The safety of our visitors and employees is our number one priority,’ said Nancy Gibson, LTBMU Forest Supervisor. “We are working closely with the California Department of Public Health and the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Health and will follow whatever precautions they recommend.”
Plague is a rare, but highly infectious bacterial disease that is spread by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas. Plague is endemic (naturally occurring) in many parts of California and is most common in rural and undeveloped mountain regions. Plague can be transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected flea, handling an infected rodent, or exposure to an infected cat. The symptoms are similar to the flu, including rapid onset of a high fever, head and muscle aches, chills, nausea, weakness, cough, chest pain and painful swollen lymph glands. Individuals who develop these symptoms within two weeks after visiting the area should seek immediate medical attention and inform the physician that they have been in a plague endemic area. If a pet becomes sick after visiting the area, take the pet to a veterinarian and inform the vet that the pet has been in an area where the rodents have plague. Plague is curable in its early stages with prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Chances of human infection are minimal with proper precautions. Visitors should avoid all contact with squirrels, chipmunks, and other wild rodents and their fleas. Do not camp, sit or sleep on the ground next to rodent burrows. Do not feed rodents in campgrounds and picnic areas. Store food and garbage in rodent–proof containers. Report any sick or dead animals to forest, campground or local health officials. Wear long pants tucked into boots and use insect repellant to avoid flea exposure. To protect pets, leave them at home if possible. If not, keep them confined or on a leash. Do not allow pets to approach sick or dead rodents or explore rodent burrows. Protect pets with flea control products.
For more information on plague in California, visit http://www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/discond/Pages/Plague.aspx or call (916) 552-9730. To report a sick or dead rodent, contact El Dorado County Vector Control at (530) 573-3197.