Watch out, campers — a ground squirrel in the Angeles National Forest has tested positive for the plague!
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health revealed that scary fact on Wednesday afternoon, noting that the county and U.S. Forestry Service have closed the Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow and Pima Loops of the Table Mountain campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest.
That's where the squirrel was trapped on July 16 during routine “surveillance activities.”
The ground squirrel tested positive on July 23 for plague, and the campgrounds were officially closed at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. The sites will remain shut for at least a week, says the county.
Plague is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, says L.A. Public Health Director Jonathan Fielding. So over the next week, squirrel burrows will be dusted for fleas and more squirrels will be tested.
“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,” Fielding says, “none of which were fatal.”
Public Health adds that “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.”
Additionally, says the county, “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.”
Unsurprisingly, the county is urging campers to stay away from wild animals in the Angeles National Forest — no feeding the squirrels! — and avoid taking pets to the affected campgrounds. Health officials also suggest wearing insect repellant containing DEET.