Squirrels on Palomar Mountain test positive for plague

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Two squirrels captured on Palomar Mountain for routine monitoring tested positive for plague, a common occurrence during the warm weather months, county officials said Tuesday.

The squirrels were trapped last week at the Doane Valley Campground, according to the county Department of Environmental Health.

“People need to remember not to feed or play with squirrels when you come across them outdoors,” said DEH Director Liz Pozzebon. “Don’t play near squirrel burrows or set up your tents around them, and report dead squirrels to camp rangers.”

Environmental health vector control crews posted warning signs and dusted squirrel burrows on the property to kill fleas that can transmit plague from squirrels and rodents to people.

Since it is not unusual to find plague in the region, the county’s Vector Control Program routinely monitors flea populations at campgrounds and takes action to reduce flea numbers when the disease is found.

Plague is a bacterial disease that mainly affects wild rodents, but it can be spread to people when fleas feed on the blood of a sick animal and then bite humans, or when people such as hunters handle tissue or body fluids of infected animals.

People who contract plague can become very sick and even die unless they are treated quickly with antibiotics, according to the county. Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, chills and tender swollen lymph nodes.

County officials said people who visit or stay in rural mountain areas should look for plague warning signs and always take the followinh simple precautions to ensure they don’t come into contact with plague-carrying fleas:

— avoid contact with ground squirrels, chipmunks and other wild animals;

— do not feed, touch or handle wild animals, or rest, camp or sleep near animal burrows in the ground;

— do not touch sick or dead animals;

— protect pets by keeping them on a leash, use flea control or leave pets at home; and

— contact a doctor immediately if you become sick within a week of visiting an area known to have plague.

More information about plague monitoring is available at the county Vector Control Program, at (858) 694-2888, or on its website at http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/deh/pests/plague.html.

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