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Plague shuts down park

Christina Nelson
Photo by Christina Nelson.A sign posted at Donner Lake warns of the outbreak.
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Donner Memorial State Park was shut down Tuesday when rodents suspected of carrying the plague were found on park grounds.

The campground and day-use areas will be closed until further notice as a precautionary measure. The museum is still open.

After park officials observed dead chipmunks and squirrels, as well as a cat with plague symptoms, the park was closed and campers were given until Wednesday morning to leave.

“It becomes more problematic in a park because there’s a large population of people,” said Norm Greenberg, Nevada County director of environmental health.

Rodent populations tend to cluster near campgrounds – where there’s a chance of finding leftover human food. This artificial increase in the rodent population “provides an ideal environment for susceptibility and spread of a disease as infectious as plague,” he said.

The animals found at the park are currently being tested. If no plague is found, the park will reopen later this week, otherwise it will remain closed.

Every few years or so a park will close due to a plague alert, but it’s been about 10 years since the last closure at Donner Memorial, he said.

In one week environmental health identified two other plague-positive animals in Truckee.

The latest plague-positive case was discovered when the owners of a cat noticed it was sick and took it to their veterinarian. The cat had a 106-degree fever and the veterinarian suspected plague.

The cat’s blood was then tested and a week later environmental health received confirmation of the plague.

“The family is looking at potentially significant pet care costs, with eight to nine days of quarantined boarding of the cat, daily antibiotics, forced hydration, and professional flea treatment for the two dogs and two cats in the household,” Greenberg said.

Cats are already particularly susceptible to plague, but their natural tendency to hunt puts them at greater risk of contracting the plague.

“The incidence of plague in pet cats has become a regular occurrence in Eastern Nevada County,” Greenberg said. “As new subdivisions are developed and homes are built, bordering on and encroaching into the domain of wildlife, humans (and their pets) have greater interaction with animals, arthropods and insects that have public health implications.”

The first plague case – a chipmunk – was discovered about a week ago off Deerfield Drive.

Plague is continually present in eastern Nevada County and residents need to be aware of flare-ups of the disease.

This year’s plague alert is no different that any other year, said Janet Mann, an environmental health specialist in Truckee.

“Last year we didn’t have any positives [test results],” she said. “But the year before we did.”

The most common indicator of a plague flare-up is the presence of dead or dying squirrels and chipmunks. Residents who encounter ground squirrels, chickarees and chipmunks that are sick or dying can contact environmental health at 582-7884.

Squirrels or rodents that have been shot, run over, hunted by pets or otherwise killed are not candidates for testing or collection and should be safely disposed of or buried, Greenberg said.

For more information visit the “Hot Topics” section of the Department of Environmental Health’s Web site at http://www.mynevadacounty.com/cda/eh


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