Campers, Hikers: Keep Plague Away, Steer Clear of Squirrels

September 17, 2013 | 1:13pm

Campers and hikers are being urged to take simple steps to protect themselves after three ground squirrels trapped in routine monitoring near Palomar Mountain tested positive for plague.

“People can protect themselves from being exposed to plague,” said San Diego County Environmental Health Director Jack Miller. “Just remember: Don’t feed or play with squirrels, report dead squirrels to camp rangers, and do not set up your tents near squirrel burrows.”

County Vector Control Program officials said it is not unusual to find plague in San Diego County. Plague is a bacterial disease of rodents, but it can be transmitted to people if they come in contact with infected animals or their fleas. People who contract the disease can become very sick and even die unless they are treated quickly with antibiotics.

The County’s vector control program routinely monitors flea populations at campgrounds and takes measures to reduce the flea population when disease is found.

The three squirrels that tested positive late last week were trapped in the Cedar Grove campground near Palomar Mountain.

People who visit or stay in rural mountain areas should look for plague warning signs and always follow these easy precautions to make sure they don’t come into contact with plague-carrying fleas:

  • Avoid contact with ground squirrels, chipmunks and other wild animals.
  • Do not feed, touch or handle wild animals.
  • Do not rest, camp or sleep near animal burrows in the ground.
  • Do not touch sick or dead animals.
  • Protect your pets by keeping them on a leash; use flea control, or, best of all, leave pets at home.

Contact your doctor immediately if you become sick within a week of visiting an area known to have plague. Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, chills and tender swollen lymph nodes.

For more information about plague surveillance, call the Vector Control Program at (858) 694-2888 or visit the website at http://www.SDVector.com.