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Squirrel tests positive as carrier of plague bacteria

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012
Issue 41, Volume 16.
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RIVERSIDE - A ground squirrel netted at a campground in the San Jacinto Mountains tested positive for bubonic plague bacteria, prompting Riverside County health officials today to warn campers to take precautions.

"We don't want to incite panic. We just want everybody to be educated," said county Department of Environmental Health spokeswoman Dottie Merki.

Merki said the squirrel was caught on Sept. 6 during routine trapping at the Fern Basin campground.

Rodents are trapped in the mountain location seasonally to ascertain whether they're carrying diseases, according to Merki.

She said it's the first time in nearly a decade that a squirrel has tested positive for plague exposure.

"It wasn't showing any plague symptoms," Merki said. "But the blood sample we took showed it had been exposed."

Fleas that feed on infected rats and other rodents carry plague bacteria and can transfer it to humans, causing a bacterial infection in some cases. People can also be infected by handling an animal that died of plague, according to the National Institutes of Health.

There are different varieties of plague -- bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic. Bubonic is the deadliest, killing about half of all victims if left untreated, according to the NIH.

Merki said plague is endemic to a number of mountain locations throughout California, including the San Jacinto wilderness.

The Fern Basin campground, perched above 6,000 feet near Idyllwild, is operated by the San Bernardino National Forest.

Merki said a few simple precautions can minimize the possibility of campers and hikers being exposed to plague-infected fleas and rodents.

"Use a good flea repellent when you're out there," she said. "Keep your campsite away from burrows and stay away from squirrels, chipmunks and all wild animals really. It's better to leave pets at home."

Plague symptoms include sudden fever, chills and tender or swollen lymph nodes.

More information is available at the county Department of Environmental Health website,, or the state's site,



Comment Profile ImageBrookie
Comment #1 | Tuesday, Oct 9, 2012 at 7:52 pm
Sure wish they would test the ones around here. I have trapped over 20 in just my yard! There are tons running around the Live Oak Park area.
Comment Profile Imagejason
Comment #2 | Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 5:17 am
Pneumonic is the deadliest form, not bubonic. Though bubonic is deadly as well, it's a little

more treatable
Comment Profile ImageLinda McDonald
Comment #3 | Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 2:05 pm
Thats interesting. I wonder why they were tested to begin with? I contacted the county "vector control" people regarding an influx of rats here in Paloma del Sol and was told they wouldnt "touch" the rats!! I imagine they might be carrying any number of diseases, but guess we'll just have to wait until somebody dies from it first huh?
Comment Profile ImageFrosty
Comment #4 | Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm
They find squirrels with the plague all the time on Palomar Mtn. Squirrels with plague found on Palomar Mountain :: The Valley News

This list can go back years.
Dang, people have short memories.

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