Plague Found in Squirrels in San Jacinto Mountains:  Health Department

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The Riverside County Environmental Health is warning area residents to take certain precautions upon the discovery.

Riverside County, CA— Public health officials are warning Riverside County residents that squirrels at two local campgrounds have tested positive for the plague.

According to the Riverside County Environmental Heath Department, the local agency was notified by the state that ground squirrels from both the Dark Canyon and Marion Mountain campground recently tested “antibody-positive” for plague.

Dark Canyon is about 8 miles north of Idyllwild and Marion Mountain is about a mile from there. Both are in the San Bernardino National Forest.

“The tests on squirrels from Dark Canyon Campground and Marion Mountain Campground were conducted on June 8 and June 13, respectively,” the health department said in a news release Tuesday. “The antibody-positive test means the squirrels had been exposed to the disease sometime in the past.”

Officials say plague is rare, but the bacterial disease can ben transmitted through the bite of infected rodent fleas.
The campsites in the San Jacinto Mountains aren’t the first to have such cases, as it’s been found in ground squirrels, chipmunks, and other wild rodents throughout many mountain regions in Southern California, health officials said. It hasn’t been found in the San Jacintos since 2012, and 2002 before that.

“Follow-up rodent surveillance and an environmental assessment of the two campgrounds will be conducted this week,” officials said. “Risk to the public is currently considered to be low and campgrounds will remain open during follow-up investigations.”

Though risk is considered low for humans at this time,the Los Angeles health department has warned in the past that “humans and their pets (dogs, and especially cats) can get plague if they visit or live in areas where wild rodents are naturally infected.

The Environmental Health Department offered this advice to anyone visiting the area:

*Do not set up tents on or near rodent burrows
*Do not feed or pick up any wild animals
*Do not touch or handle any dead animals
*Keep pets on a leash while camping and ensure they have been treated against fleas
*Report any sick or dead rodents to campground staff
Contact your family medical provider if you experience any illness after camping in mountain areas