Plague is found in animals throughout California, but it's not that common. It's even less common for it to be transferred to humans. Nonetheless, when an animal tests positive, public health agencies can take action. Such is the case this week when L.A. County and the U.S. Forest Service closed sites at an Angeles National Forest campground.
On Tuesday, a ground squirrel trapped and tested was found to have the disease, prompting the closure of the three southern loops -- Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow, and Pima -- at Table Mountain campground near Wrightwood. The remaining loops -- Mojave Rim, Cherokee Lane, Zuni, and Apache -- are open, although the Forest Service is still taking reservations online for all loops.
The closure will remain for at least seven days while official dust squirrel burrows for fleas and conduct more tests.
"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 Jonathan E. Fielding, Director of Public Health and Health Officer. "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."
Symptoms for plague include enlarged lymph glands and a quick onset of fever and chills, according to the county health department. It can infect the blood and sometimes the lungs, causing pneumonic plague.
Previous findings of the disease in L.A. County include near the cities of Gorman (2010) and La Cañada/Flintridge (1996, 2007). Throughout California in 2012, 36 animals tested positive for plague antibodies in their system and one tested positive for the bacteria, according to the California Department of Public Health.
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