Health officials investigating rare case of human plague in California



The first case of human plague in California in nearly a decade has been reported in a child who fell ill while camping in Yosemite National Park in mid-July, state health officials said Thursday.

The child was hospitalized after camping at Crane Flat Campground, California Department of Public Health Director and State Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith said. The child is recovering, and no other members of the camping party reported symptoms.

Plague is an infectious bacterial disease carried by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas. When an infected rodent becomes sick and dies, its fleas can carry the infection to other warm-blooded animals or humans, according to health officials.

The last case of human plague in California occurred in 2006. Since 1970, 42 human cases of plague have been confirmed in California, nine of which were fatal. Plague is treatable in its early stages with prompt diagnosis and proper antibiotic treatment, but if not treated, plague can be fatal.

“Although this is a rare disease, people should protect themselves from infection by avoiding any contact with wild rodents,” Smith said in a statement. “Never feed squirrels, chipmunks, or other rodents in picnic or campground areas, and never touch sick or dead rodents. Protect your pets from fleas and keep them away from wild animals.”

Yosemite National Park will provide information to visitors about steps to prevent plague exposure and post signs at the Crane Flat Campground and nearby campgrounds as a precaution.

Health officials urge the public to take these steps to avoid exposure to human plague:

  • Never feed squirrels, chipmunks or other rodents and never touch sick or dead rodents
  • Avoid walking, hiking or camping near rodent burrows
  • Wear long pants tucked into socks or boot tops to reduce exposure to fleas
  • Spray insect repellent containing DEET on socks and pant cuffs to reduce exposure to fleas
  • Keep wild rodents out of homes, trailers and outbuildings and away from pets

Early symptoms of plague include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin. Anyone who develops these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention and notify their health care provider that they have been camping or out in the wilderness and have been exposed to rodents and fleas.

The chance of the sick child transmitting plague to another person is extremely low, health officials said. Unless a patient also has a lung infection and is coughing, plague is not transmitted from person to person. There have been no known cases of human-to-human infection in California since 1924.


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