One plague-ridden squirrel in California caused major havoc on Wednesday, prompting the shutdown of three campgrounds and warnings about the disease that caused the “Black Death” in the 14th century.
Three parks were closed Wednesday afternoon after tests confirmed one ground squirrel tested positive for the bubonic plague. Parts of the Angeles National Forest will be closed for a week to give authorities time to search for squirrel burrows and dust for fleas, which spread the disease, NBC Los Angeles reports.
"This is not causing an epidemic, but [the plague] is endemic and is known to be in the United States," Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director for Los Angeles County's Public Health Department, told the Los Angeles Daily News.
The ground squirrel was trapped on July 16 and tested positive for the disease. The plague, which can spread through flea bites, can be fatal if left untreated, according to the Associated Press. Humans can contract the disease if bitten by infected fleas, but there have been only four reported cases of the plague since 1984 in Los Angeles County -- none of which were fatal, Fielding said. The plague was also found in three other California squirrels between 1995 and 2010.
The bubonic plague swept through Europe in the Middle Ages and killed about 75 million people, with 50 percent of the European population affected, according to some estimates. Symptoms include fever, weakness, abdominal pain, shock and bleeding into the skin, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
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The disease was first introduced in the United States by rat-infested steamships that sailed from infected areas in Asia. Epidemics took place in port cities, with the last epidemic in Los Angeles occurring between 1924 and 1925. Between 1900 and 2010, there were close to 1,000 reported cases in the country, according to the CDC.
According to a health advisory from Los Angeles County health officials, “Untreated bubonic plague can progress to infection of the blood, or rarely, the lungs, causing pneumonic plague.” All types of the plague can be fatal if not treated, but they most generally respond well to antibiotic therapy.