Chipmunks Test Positive for the Bubonic Plague in Lake Tahoe, Shutting Down Some Area Attractions
Signs of the bubonic plague have hit California. Earlier this week, chipmunks in the South Lake Tahoe area tested positive for the disease, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported. A spokesperson for El Dorado County told the paper that the mammals hadn't had any contact with humans.
As a precautionary measure, Taylor Creek Visitor Center and Kiva Beach — including their parking areas — will be closed off through Sat., Aug. 7, for "plague treatment," according to a sign on a barrier. The U.S. Forest Service will use a vector control method to treat the region, the Associated Press reported. The areas are expected to reopen by the weekend.
While the term "plague" is best known for the deaths of millions of people during the Middle Ages, it continues to have a presence in rural parts of the western United States, as well as Asia and Africa, according to the CDC. The disease usually transfers to humans by a rodent flea bite or after handling an infected animal. Common signs of the bubonic plague include swelling and pain in the lymph nodes, and can usually be treated with antibiotics upon early diagnosis.
The plague is known to be present in parts of California, though it rarely transfers to humans. Last August, a South Lake Tahoe resident became the first person in five years to test positive, believed to have been bitten by a flea during a walk along the Truckee River, the local paper reported at the time. The Taylor Creek area, currently closed off, was also the site of another chipmunk outbreak in 2012.
"It's important that individuals take precautions for themselves and their pets when outdoors, especially while walking, hiking, or camping in areas where wild rodents are present," Dr. Nancy Williams, the county's public health officer, said in a statement last year. "Human cases of plague are extremely rare, but can be very serious."
In 2019, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado shut down for about a month after a colony of prairie dogs was infected with the plague.