County health officials warn of plague-infected rodents in area
Nevada County has initiated a plague alert for the Truckee area, after a chipmunk carrying the disease was found at the Martis Creek campground just south of Truckee off of state Route 267.The alert comes on the heels of news that four more birds in Nevada County have tested positive for West Nile Virus, although no cases of the disease in humans or horses have been confirmed in the county. The plague, both bubonic and pneumonic, is endemic to the Truckee area, meaning it continually exists at low levels within the environment, according to county health officials. The disease flares up every few years, killing rodents and pets, but has no history of affecting humans in the county.In August 2002, a rash of plague cases in rodents and pets closed Donner Memorial State Park, and in 2000, Martis Creek campground closed for 10 days because of the disease. State employees will be out at Martis Creek campground this week trapping and testing rodents for fleas carrying the disease.”The state does the determination over whether the campground closes,” said Jacqui Zink, a ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which runs the campground. The state team will also dust for fleas and examine the disease-carrying insects.”They trap a few squirrels and count the fleas,” said Zink.At Donner Memorial State Park, two dead rodents have been sent in for testing, but both tested negative for the disease. But officials at the park are still on the lookout for signs of the plague.”We’re very much proactive,” said Greg Hackett, supervising ranger for Donner Memorial State Park. “We take care of it. We watch it.”The county environmental health department is urging residents and visitors to take added precautions in places where fleas and rodents are prevalent. The plague is most commonly transmitted through bites from rodent fleas.In recent years, a number of cats have become infected by plague. Both dogs and cats are susceptible to contracting the illness from infected rodents, squirrels, or fleas from these animals. Cats are particularly susceptible, and this potential is increased by their natural hunting instincts.Cats can become infected and spread the infection to their human owners in several ways: Through the cat’s saliva, blood, or by airborne transmission via sneezing or coughing. Additionally, cats can bring infection to humans by transporting dead or injured infected rodents to the home, or the fleas associated with the rodent. The less serious, more common bubonic phase of the illness can sometimes become the more serious and often fatal pneumonic plague. Pneumonic plague is also readily transmittable to humans through sneezing, coughing or other oral routes.Pet owners living in the area should be aware of listlessness, poor appetite, swollen glands or boils in their pets.Plague exposure is easily minimized by avoiding rodents and their burrows, keeping pets inside and applying flea powder to pets.For more information contact the Truckee Environmental Health office at 530-582-7884.Residents who encounter ground squirrels, chickarees, and chipmunks that are sick or dying can contact the Environmental Health Department Truckee office at 530-582-7884. Please do not drop off any animals at the department unless specifically requested. Though rare in humans, untreated bubonic plague is fatal in approximately 50 percent of the cases, while untreated pneumonic plague is nearly always fatal. Symptoms usually develop in two to six days after the flea bite. Early human symptoms of bubonic plague include fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and extreme exhaustion. Swollen and tender lymph nodes near flea bite are typical of bubonic plague. Pneumonic plague usually induces severe pneumonia, shortness of breath and high fever. Plague is generally completely curable with antibiotics if treatment is begun in time. For more information, please contact the Truckee Environmental Health office at 530-582-7884.