Popular beauty spot forced to close after chipmunks test positive for plague

A popular tourist spot has been cordoned off after officials found that some chipmunks living in the area have tested positive for plague.

Two popular areas of Lake Tahoe, Taylor Creek Visitor Centre and Kiva Beach, will be closed for at least the rest of the week, according to local officials.

El Dorado County spokesperson Carla Hass told the Tahoe Daily Tribune that the infected chipmunks had had “no human contact”.

The El Dorado County Public Health authority says plague is endemic in Californian wildlife and advises hikers to be cautious around animals that can carry it.

It’s very rare in humans, but a South Tahoe dog walker was diagnosed with the first case in five years in August 2020.

Public Health Officer Dr. Nancy Williams said at the time: “It’s important that individuals take precautions for themselves and their pets when outdoors, especially while walking, hiking or camping in areas where wild rodents are present.

“Human cases of plague are extremely rare but can be very serious.”

Walkers have been advised not to feed squirrels, chipmunks or other wild rodents, wear long trousers tucked into boots in wooded areas, and to make sure their pets are regularly treated for fleas.

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Plague is an infectious bacterial disease caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis. It can be spread by fleas that live on chipmunks, rats and other rodents.

The symptoms take roughly two weeks to appear after the initial infection. They can include fever, headache, chills, and fatigue.

The victim’s lymph nodes can swell, especially near the original bite.

Outbreaks of plague occurred throughout human history, until the development of antibiotics brought the disease under control. These days, an average of 600 cases are reported annually worldwide.

The most severe outbreak, known as the Black Death, is thought to have killed at least 50 million people in the 14th century.

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