Plague-positive squirrel prompts warnings for area
Placer County confirmed the third plague-positive animal in Truckee last Thursday, only two weeks after two cats tested positive.
After an infected golden mantle squirrel was found at the Granite Flat Campground, two miles south of Truckee on Highway 89, warnings were issued to keep children and pets away from dead rodents and rodent burrows in the Sierra.
Although no humans have been stricken with the potentially deadly disease, the Nevada County Department of Environmental Health issued its third “plague alert” this season. In August, a plague-positive rodent was found at the U.S. Forest Service building above downtown Truckee, and only weeks ago, a cat from Tahoe Donner and another from Donner Lake tested positive.
Pets, especially cats, are vulnerable to the illness. With the feline instinct to chase and capture rodents, cats have historically been the animals most infected.
Pets can become infected and spread plague to their human owners in several ways: through the cat’s saliva, blood or by airborne transmission via sneezing or coughing. Additionally, pets can bring infection to humans by transporting dead or injured infected rodents, or the fleas associated with the rodents, to the home.
“Unlike hantavirus, the plague can be treated with antibiotics,” Norm Greenberg, supervising environmental health specialist said. “Not all plague cases are deadly, but can be if undetected.”
Avoid rodents and their burrows.
Picking up rodents without protection can lead to infection. Do not come in contact with rodents, sick or otherwise. If it is necessary to move or remove a rodent, use a shovel or other long handled tool to put them into an air-tight container.
Those people needing to remove rodents should spray themselves with insect repellent, particularly around legs and arms. Put arms into a plastic bag and grasp rodent with the plastic covered hand. Then turn the bag inside out so that the rodent is inside the bag without your having to touch it directly, and seal the bag. In a confined area, it is advisable to wear a face mask and to spray the rodent and surrounding area with a disinfectant such as Lysol. This is particularly important when handling mice or rats, which can be carriers of hantavirus, a potentially deadly disease.
Keep pets inside as much as possible, and avoid letting them run loose. Use flea powder and flea collars when hiking with pets.
Wearing long pants tucked into boot tops can prevent fleas in infested areas from jumping onto legs. Insect repellent can also help.
Do not feed or otherwise support rodent populations. This can stimulate and artificially raise the population, creating overcrowding and conditions for plague transmission.
If a pet becomes sick, avoid close contact with it.
For visitors to the area, be certain not to place tents and sleeping quarters where rodents are present or near their burrows. Leave pets at home when possible.
In humans, symptoms usually develop in two to six days following contact with an infected animal. Early symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, weakness and, commonly, swollen and tender lymph nodes.
Contact a physician immediately if symptoms occur within seven days of being in a plague area. Plague is generally completely curable with antibiotics if treatment is started in time.
Pet owners living in plague endemic areas, should be alert for signs of listlessness, poor appetite, swollen glands, boils or other illness.
Residents who encounter ground squirrels, chickarees and chipmunks that are sick or dying, should call Janet Mann or Kathy Polucha at the Environmental Health Department at 582-7884 between 8 and 9 a.m. and 4 and 5 p.m. Greenberg urges that residents do not drop off animals to the department unless specifically requested. Common gray tree squirrels are not wanted, Greenberg said, because they historically have not shown infection.
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