• The chipmunks that tested positive for plague had no human contact
  • Today, plague in humans is "rare"
  • It can be serious if treatment is delayed

Some parts of Lake Tahoe will be closed for several days after chipmunks tested positive for plague. People are being advised to take precautions against the infectious disease.

Positive plague tests in chipmunks near the south shore of Lake Tahoe in California prompted the closure of several areas, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported. Specifically, Taylor Creek Visitor Center, Kiva Beach and their parking areas will remain closed through Friday to make way for vector control treatments.

The treatments will be held Thursday, authorities said, so the affected areas will "likely" be reopened by the weekend. Meanwhile, other areas such as the Kiva picnic parking area and the Tallac site will remain open.

Plague is a serious bacterial infection caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria transmitted primarily by fleas. In California, people typically get the plague bacteria through the bite of an infected rodent flea, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said. But it can also be contracted when a person comes in contact with animal tissues, bodily fluids or blood and Y. pestis enters the body through cuts in the skin or through the eyes, mouth or nose.

Reportedly, the chipmunks that tested positive had no human contact.

Plague is naturally occurring in parts of California. According to the agency, it is currently found in "many foothill and mountainous areas" in the state. Between 1927 to 2020, there were 64 human plague cases in California, with "almost all" of the cases being linked to wild rodent activity and their fleas.

The disease has historically caused epidemics and deaths. Today, plague is said to be "rare" in humans and occurs in less than 5,000 people a year worldwide. Although it can progress to a severe or even fatal illness if diagnosis and treatment are delayed, it is treatable using antibiotics, CDPH noted.

The best way to reduce the odds of getting the plague is by avoiding contact with rodents and their fleas, the agency said. People should also be more aware of the places where plague-infected rodents may roam and follow plague notices at camping sites.

"People visiting, hiking, camping, or living in areas where plague occurs should avoid contact with wild rodents and their fleas," the CDPH said.

Other important means of preventing the disease include wearing long pants tucked into the boots and using insect repellent to prevent flea bites. People should also protect their pets by not allowing them to approach sick or dead rodents as this can also expose them to fleas. Owners should also use flea control products on their pets.

"If you become sick within seven days after being in a known area with plague, talk to a physician or doctor immediately and tell them if you have been exposed to fleas or wild rodents," the agency said.

Chipmunk/Rodent Representative image of a chipmunk on a branch. Photo: Pixabay