Dead squirrel prompts issue of plague alert |

Dead squirrel prompts issue of plague alert

Golden-mantle ground squirrels are common in Sierran campgrounds - and may carry plague.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

A plague alert was issued Thursday by Nevada County health officials after a dead chipmunk with the often-deadly disease was found near Truckee.

The county Department of Environmental Health issued the warning after receiving confirmation from the state Vector Borne Disease Section, which monitors and conducts tests for diseases caused by animals.

The chipmunk was reported dead near Deerfield Drive, in an area Environmental Health officials said isn’t easily accessible to the public.

Nevertheless, the county is warning residents to avoid picking up rodents or allowing their pets to roam free in heavily wooded areas.

The plague is especially prevalent in the summer, said Pat Ditrovati, consumer protection division program manager for the county agency. In fact, the plague is endemic – meaning it is always present – in this region of the Sierra Nevada, especially during the warmer summer months.

Ditrovati said the plague poses no threat to humans during their everyday activities, though plague alerts are fairly common in foothill communities.

This is the first alert this year in Nevada County.

“Plague is a serious disease, but it can be treated, and we haven’t had any cases of human plague in a while,” he said.

Plague can be transmitted via an animal’s saliva, blood, or by airborne transmission such as sneezing or coughing.

It comes in two forms, generally from fleas:

— Bubonic plague, which is fatal in 50 percent of the cases if left untreated. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, swollen lymph nodes and extreme exhaustion.

— Pneumonic plague, which is almost always fatal if left untreated. Symptoms include severe pneumonia, shortness of breath and high fever, and victims often cough up blood.

Ditrovati advised people to use common sense. “You just need to stay alert, stay away from the chipmunks and ground squirrels, and if you go camping, it’s probably best not to take your pets,” he said.

Staying Plague-Free

— Avoid rodents and their burrows. Dogs and cats should be kept away from burrows.

— Avoid all contact with squirrels or rodents, sick or otherwise. Picking them up without protection can lead to infection. Use a shovel or long-handled tool to remove dead animals if you must, and seal them in an air-tight container for disposal.

— Spray yourself with insect repellent, particularly around your legs and arms. Put your arm into a plastic garbage bag and grasp the dead squirrel or rodent with your plastic-covered hand. Turn the bag inside out so the rodent is inside the bag and seal it. It is advisable to wear a face mask and to spray the rodent with a disinfectant.

— Keep pets inside as much as possible, and avoid letting them run loose. Use flea powder and a flea collar on your pets.

— Wear long pants tucked into boot tops in infested areas, and spray yourself with insect repellent.

— Do not feed rodents.

— If your pet becomes sick, avoid handling and contact, especially face-to-face contact.

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