Tahoe Donner feline tests positive for plague | SierraSun.com

Tahoe Donner feline tests positive for plague

Nevada County Department of Environmental Health officials last week confirmed Truckee’s first plague case after a Tahoe Donner cat tested positive.

The cat, which lived in the Hillside Drive area, died from the pneumonic plague the health department confirmed Sept. 1.

The news gives cause for heightened awareness of homeowners and visitors to the Truckee-Donner Summit area, particularly Tahoe Donner. This marks several occurrences of cats contracting plague from this locale.

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.

This cat was apparently a good hunter, bringing home a chipmunk or mouse every day, according to the county’s plague alert. The one-and-a-half year-old feline experienced symptoms Aug. 23. On Aug. 24, the cat was brought in to a local veterinarian with breathing problems and a fever of 106 degrees. Due to the advanced stage of the illness, the cat was put to sleep the next day. Another cat of the same home is apparently healthy, and the owner has been counseled on methods to prevent plague.

According to the State Vector Borne Disease Section, this has been a busy season for plague in the Sierra. Of the coyotes that have been trapped in Sierra and Plumas counties, 70 percent are plague-positive. Further north, another plague-positive cat was discovered.

This week, a chipmunk from Logger Camp at Stampede Reservoir tested positive for plague.

A survey by VBDS staff revealed a large population of chipmunks and golden-mantled ground squirrels with a significant flea population. This is fertile ground for a plague epizootic and so the campground will close next Tuesday for a flea control program to be conducted by the state.

Visitors to the campground for this weekend will be given explicit instructions on how to protect themselves from plague.

Cats 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, cats 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.”


– Avoiding rodents and their burrows is the key. Instructing children of the dangers is important.

– 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. Seal the container immediately.

– 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. A bell can be put on a pet’s collar to scare rodents. Use flea powder and flea collars when hiking with pets or if they are going to run loose.

– 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 the transmission of plague.

– If a pet becomes sick, avoid close contact with it, especially face-to-face contact. Pets can bring home fleas that carry plague, enabling the fleas to bite humans.

– 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 the infected organism. 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.

Cats are particularly susceptible to plague infection. Pet owners living in plague endemic areas, should be alert for signs of listlessness, poor appetite, swollen glands, boils or other illness in pets.

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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