Bubonic-plague chipmunks and rodents are shutting down components of Lake Tahoe


Pest-borne chipmunks crippled scenic stretches of Lake Tahoe, California by August 7th. MaryShutterstock / Reuters

  • Bubonic plague chipmunks have crippled large areas of Lake Tahoe.

  • The sectors are closed to visitors while the U.S. Forest Service treats the areas to kill infected fleas.

  • The bubonic plague caused the Black Death pandemic but is now treatable and preventable.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Chipmunks infected by the bubonic plague crippled parts of California’s Lake Tahoe by August 7th.

The U.S. Forest Service is conducting vector control treatments after detecting signs of plague infection in areas like Taylor Creek Visitor Center and Kiva Beach. These are popular places on the shores of Lake Tahoe known for scenic hiking trails.

The bubonic plague was responsible for the 14th century Black Death pandemic that wiped out a third of Europe. It still exists in the foothills, plateaus, and mountains of California and is primarily found in wild rodents. People can become infected when bitten by infected, plague-carrying fleas.

El Dorado county spokeswoman Carla Hass told the Tahoe Daily Tribune that the plague-infected chipmunks had no contact with humans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the plague affects between one and 17 people each year in the United States. But it is now preventable and treatable and does not result in serious illness or death if antibiotics are given within a day of the onset of symptoms.

“The bubonic plague occurs naturally in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and this region,” Lisa Herron, a spokeswoman for the US Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin administrative unit, told the Guardian.

Herron added that any “real danger” from the plague comes from the fleas that rodents carry. She told the Guardian that regional authorities regularly test these rodents by combing their fur and examining the fleas they find.

Chipmunks and other rodents usually show no symptoms when carrying pest-infected fleas.

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If an infection is detected, animal control will step in to try to eradicate the area of ​​the infected fleas by dusting the rodents’ burrows with a powder, Herron said.

“Visitors need to take precautions, but it’s nothing to worry about,” she added.

Cases of bubonic plague in humans are extremely rare. Last August, a South Lake Tahoe resident became the first person in five years to test positive for the plague. Officials at the time suspected that the infected person was bitten by a flea carrying the plague while walking their dog along the Truckee River corridor.

Deaths from the bubonic plague are also very rare in the United States, but they do happen occasionally. Last August, a man in his twenties from Arriba, New Mexico died of plague, the first plague death in the state since 2015. And this July, a 10-year-old girl from Colorado died after contracting the disease . It was the first plague death in the state in six years.

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