On July 16, the Angeles National Forest campgrounds in Los Angeles County found a squirrel that tested positive for bubonic plague. The grounds have had to be closed as a result, so officials can further investigate the cause and depth of the risk that this squirrel poses to the public.
The Table Mountain campgrounds, including Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow and Pima Loops have been closed since one in the afternoon on Wednesday. To this point, there have been no people infected with the plague.
According to Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the chief of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, there have only been four human cases of plague in Los Angeles County since 1984; none were fatal.
However, as a way to keep people safe, the sites are going to be closed down for the next seven days while officials dust squirrel burrows in the campgrounds for fleas. The last infected animal was found in 2010.
In the western US, between five and fifteen cases of human plague occur yearly. During its peak in the 14th century, the Black Death caused an estimated one third of Europeans to perish. The plague is caused from the bacteria called Yersinia pestis, which is most often found in rats and the fleas that feed off the rats. The disease spreads to humans through infected flea bites or bites of infected rodents.
The disease can take three forms, bubonic plague, pneumonic plague and septicemic plague. Bubonic plague manifests itself through inflamed tonsils, spleen, adenoids, fever, chills, aches, and tender, swollen lymph glands. Septicemic plague happens when the bacteria multiplies in a person’s blood, which can lead to chills, fever, shock and internal bleeding.
The worst plague is the pneumonic plague. It is caused when the bacteria enters the lungs to cause pneumonia. Those with pneumonic plague can cause the disease to spread through the air. People can become ill between one and six days after they have been exposed.
When it is caught early enough, the plague can be easily treated with antibiotics. If caught within 24 hours of the beginning signs of illness, treatment is usually relatively easy. Health officials have said that it’s essential to catch the disease early to reduce the chances of fatality in patients that have serious forms of the plague like pneumonic plague. Treatment for this type of plague includes hospitalization with respiratory isolation.
While there are many different antibiotics that can successfully treat the disease, such as Levaquin, which was approved by the FDA in April of 2012, health authorities still recommend that the best way to stay safe from the disease is to avoid situations where people might be exposed.
When in areas that may be exposed, it is crucial to keep the legs and arms covered. Also, avoid feeding rodents of any kinds, to avoid being bitten by fleas or animals. Also, the CDC has pointed out that the Yersinia pestis bacteria can be easily destroyed by sunlight and dry heat, but when it is released into the air, it has the potential to stay alive for an hour, depending on conditions.