Chipmunks Infected with the Plague Force Closures in Lake Tahoe Area

by Matthew Memrick

Lake Tahoe officials quickly shut down areas of California on Monday after tests found plague-infected chipmunks in the area.

The Tahoe Daily Tribune reported that Forest Service officials worked on treatments to dispose of the chipmunks and that areas would be closed until Friday.

An El Dorado County spokesperson told the newspaper that the chipmunks involved in the tests did not make human contact. Public health officials confirmed that the plague was naturally present in parts of California. 

Known for its devastation in Europe during the middle ages, the plague is mainly a bacterial-spread disease that humans can acquire from animals. The condition is rare, but it is a severe one.

To be safe, U.S. Forest Service officials closed a visitor’s center and beach before the weekend.  

Public health officials warned residents and visitors after an area resident tested positive for the plague test last year.  

“It’s important that individuals take precautions for themselves and their pets when outdoors, especially while walking, hiking, or camping in areas where wild rodents are present,” Williams told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.  

Chipmunks, Rodents Infected With Plague Common In U.S

Squirrels, chipmunks, prairie dogs, and other wild rodents infected with fleas can spread the disease. Close contact or animal bites are the most effective way to spread the disease. After two weeks, an infected person can develop fever, nausea, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes. Antibiotics are the best way to treat the disease early. 

Hikers and people outdoors should avoid contact with animals. They should do the same for their pets.

Recently, a 10-year-old child died from the plague in late July.

The plague appeared in a few U.S. states in 2020. NBC News reported a Colorado case of a person who was infected and recovered. That same year, Arizona officials announced a case. Of two New Mexico cases, one person died.

“Bubonic plague in the U.S. is not the same scenario as the historical Black Death,” Minnesota College of Biological Sciences professor Susan Jones told NBC News. “We do not need to be afraid of it in the same way.”

The news channel reported that the U.S. averages seven human cases of plague each year. In 2006, officials announced 17 instances.

Between 1970 and 2019, parts of the western and southwestern United States had the most reported cases. Oddly, Chicago, Ill. also reported a plague case. Between 2013-2018, Madagascar reported the most cases in the world. The country suffered from August to November where 2,417 cases and 209 deaths in 2017. In 2014, 71 people died in another outbreak.

Before 2020, the disease had higher fatality numbers. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2015 was the last plague fatality. There had not been a plague fatality in the U.S. since 2015, which had 16 total cases that year. Four plague deaths occurred that year.