California resident tests positive for plague, first time in 5 years

A person in South Lake Tahoe has been diagnosed with plague, marking the first human case since 2015 for California.

Nurse tends to a recovering patient (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In California, a resident has received an official diagnosis of plague for the first time in the state in five years.

Read More: Colorado squirrel tests positive for Bubonic plague

An official release from the El Dorado County Health and Human Services Agency confirms a Lake Tahoe resident has tested positive for plague recently. Health officials suspect the person, whose identity is undisclosed, contracted the disease on a walk. According to the statement, they were potentially bit by an infected flea while walking their dog along the Truckee River Corridor.

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

“Plague is naturally present in many parts of California, including higher elevation areas of El Dorado County,” writes Dr. Nancy WIlliams who is the El Dorado County Public Health Officer.

“It’s important that individuals take precautions for themselves and their pets when outdoors, especially while walking, hiking, and/or camping in areas where wild rodents are present.  Human cases of plague are extremely rare but can be very serious.”

According to El Dorado County, from 2016 to 2019, officials found a total of 20 squirrels and chipmunks with evidence of exposure to the plague bacterium. In 2015, two human cases were confirmed in Yosemite National Park.

Read More: Bubonic plague cases confirmed in China

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports most human cases of plague in the United States are typically in northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern Oregon, and far western Nevada.

Transmission of plague bacteria can happen in multiple ways, resulting in different types of the illness. According to the CDC, contraction from flea bites typically results in bubonic plague or septicemic plague. Contact with contaminated fluid or tissue often results in the bubonic or septicemic plague as well. Infectious droplets from humans with plague pneumonia can cause pneumonic plague.

El Dorado County informs residents that plague can be prevented by “avoiding contact with wild rodents, and by keeping pets away from rodent burrows.”

This includes not feeding squirrels, not touching dead animals, keeping pets away from dead rodents, camping away from animal burrows, wearing long pants tucked into boots, and wearing long pants tucked into boot tops. People should also use insect repellent containing DEET.

Symptoms of infection include include fever, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes. The disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early.

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