Bubonic-plague afflicted chipmunks and rodents are shutting down parts of Lake Tahoe

Advertisement
Bubonic-plague afflicted chipmunks and rodents are shutting down parts of Lake Tahoe
Plague-carrying chipmunks have shut down scenic sectors of California's Lake Tahoe until August 7. MaryShutterstock/Reuters
  • Chipmunks carrying the bubonic plague shut down large sections of Lake Tahoe.
  • The sectors will be off-limits to visitors while the US Forest Service treats the areas to kill infected fleas.
  • The bubonic plague was what drove the Black Death pandemic but is now treatable and preventable.

Chipmunks afflicted with the bubonic plague have shut down parts of California's Lake Tahoe until August 7.

The US Forest Service is moving in to do vector control treatments after detecting signs of plague infection in areas including the Taylor Creek Visitor Center and Kiva Beach. These are popular spots along the Lake Tahoe shore, known for picturesque hiking trails.

The bubonic plague was responsible for the 14th century Black Death pandemic which wiped out a third of Europe. It does still exist in California's foothills, plateaus, and mountains, and is mainly present in wild rodents. People can get infected if they are bitten by infected, plague-carrying fleas.

Advertisement

El Dorado County spokeswoman Carla Hass told the Tahoe Daily Tribune that the plague-infected chipmunks had no contact with people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between one and 17 people are affected by the plague in the US every year. But it is preventable and treatable now, and will not cause serious illness or death if antibiotics are administered within a day of symptoms setting in.

"Bubonic plague is naturally occurring in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and this region," said Lisa Herron, a spokeswoman for the US Forest Service's Lake Tahoe basin management unit to the Guardian.

Advertisement

Herron added that any "real danger" from getting the plague comes from the fleas that rodents carry. She told the Guardian that regional authorities regularly test said rodents by combing through their fur and examining the fleas they find.

Chipmunks and other rodents typically do not display any symptoms when carrying plague-infected fleas.

When an infection is detected, animal control will move in to attempt to eradicate the area of infected fleas by dusting the rodents' burrows with a powder, Herron said.

Advertisement

"It's something that visitors need to take precautions about, but it's not something that they need to worry about," she added.

Cases of bubonic plague in humans are exceedingly uncommon. In August last year, a South Lake Tahoe resident was the first person in five years to test positive for the plague. Officials suspected at the time that the infected person was bitten by a flea carrying the plague while walking their dog along the Truckee River corridor.

Deaths from the bubonic plague are also very rare in the US but do happen occasionally. Last August, a man in his 20s from New Mexico's Arriba county died from the plague, the state's first plague-related death since 2015. And this July, a 10-year-old Colorado girl died after contracting the illness. She was the state's first case of plague-related death in six years.

Advertisement
{{}}