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Plague tests still outstanding

Donner Memorial State Park will remain closed as county and state health officials continue testing for bubonic plague this week.

Test results from two squirrels and a cat came up negative Friday, but health officials believe the specimens obtained from the park were bad samples.

One squirrel was found dead in a toilet and was believed to have drowned, while another had suffered from a “head trauma,” which indicates that neither died of the plague, said Marilyn Murphy, Donner Memorial State Park superintendent.



Murphy said more samples have been collected and have been sent for testing. The results should be ready next week.

The State Department of Health Services and the Nevada County Department of Environmental Health has recommended that the park remain closed until conclusive tests are completed.



“We found three dead squirrels this weekend in the park,” Murphy said. The samples were sent to a lab in the Bay Area to be tested on Wednesday.

Murphy said state officials will be at the park next Monday and Tuesday to trap rodents, look for fleas and conduct other tests.

“The rodent flea is really the culprit in this whole cycle,” said Curtis Fritz, a state epidemiologist.

He noted that it is often believed that decreasing the rodent population reduces the risk of plague, but that is not true.

Decreasing the rodent population of an area actually increases the risk of plague for humans because the fleas have fewer rodent targets, Fritz said.

If a high number of fleas is found, the state will most likely use an insecticide to kill the fleas, Fritz said.

As a precaution, the park voluntarily closed last Tuesday after a rodent and a cat in the area tested positive for bubonic plague.

Campgrounds pose a greater health risk to humans because rodents tend to cluster near them to find leftover food. The artificial increase in the rodent population facilitates the spread of the disease, said Norm Greenberg, Nevada County director of environmental health.

The Truckee Police Department, animal control and the health department have received numerous calls from concerned citizens.

The environmental health office in Truckee estimated that it received 30 calls on Tuesday alone.

Plague is constantly present in Eastern Nevada County, but residents need to be aware of flare-ups of the disease.

For now, the park’s campgrounds and day-use areas are closed, but the museum is still open.

“We are closed until we receive a green light from the County health department,” Murphy said. “We’re just trying to do the safe thing and remain closed.”


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