SAN DIEGO–San Diego County Department of Environmental Health officials urged hikers and campers to take simple precautions Wednesday to make sure they don’t come into contact with squirrels or their fleas, which can spread plague, a disease caused by bacteria that can make people very sick and even kill them without quick treatment.
“It’s not unusual for us to find plague in our area and there really are simple things people can do to protect themselves,” said environmental health director Jack Miller. “The big thing is to avoid contact with squirrels and the fleas they carry. If you’re camping, set your tents up away from squirrel burrows. If you’re hiking, don’t feed squirrels and don’t let your kids play with them.”
Three squirrels with plague have been discovered at two campgrounds near Palomar Mountain, and Two of the squirrels were trapped in routine monitoring at Cedar Grove Campground near Palomar Mountain; the third was trapped at nearby Doane Valley campground.
Plague is mainly a disease of wild rodents, but it can be spread to people by fleas that feed on the blood of a sick animal and then bite humans. San Diego County’s environmental health department monitors flea populations at campgrounds and takes measures to control those populations whenever necessary.
People who visit or stay in rural mountain areas should look for Plague Warning signs and always follow these easy precautions to make sure 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.
- Do not rest, camp or sleep near animal burrows in the ground.
- Do not touch sick or dead animals.
- Protect your pets by keeping them on a leash; Use flea control, or, best of all, leave pets at home.
- Contact your doctor immediately if you become sick within a week of visiting an area known to have plague. (Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, chills and tender swollen lymph nodes.)
For more information about plague surveillance, call the Vector Control Program at (858) 694-2888, or visit the website at http://www.SDVector.com.