Dead squirrel found in Lake Tahoe had plague

A squirrel found dead in Lake Tahoe last month has tested positive for plague, health officials said.

The California ground squirrel was found dead Aug. 17 at the Kiva picnic area near the Tallac Historic Site in South Lake Tahoe, according to the El Dorado County Environmental Management Division.

County officials have notified the California Department of Public Health and posted warning signs in the area advising visitors to report sick or dead rodents.

It doesn’t appear the squirrel had any contact with humans.


“Plague is naturally present in many parts of California, including higher-elevation areas of El Dorado County, so we need to be cautious around animals that can carry it,” division Supervisor Karen Bender said in a statement.

The latest finding comes weeks after state health officials announced two people who visited Yosemite National Park during the summer had contracted the plague. They were treated and recovered.

A child from Los Angeles County contracted plague while visiting the park and Stanislaus National Forest with family in mid-July.

Weeks later, the state health department announced it was investigating a second case of the plague officials think was contracted by a Georgia native. The traveler had been hiking in the park, the Sierra National Forest and surrounding areas.


The discovery prompted the closure of three park campgrounds — Crane Flat, Tuolumne Meadows and Tamarack Flat — after fleas and squirrels in those areas tested positive for plague.

Rodent burrows at the campgrounds were dusted with a flea insecticide to kill any remnants of plague. The campgrounds were closed for several days.

Plague activity this year has been increasing in the Western U.S., health officials said. But health officials don’t know what is causing the outbreak.

Plague-infected animals usually are found in the foothills and mountains and sometimes along the coast of California.


In 2014, plague activity was detected in animals in El Dorado, Mariposa, Modoc, Plumas, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Sierra counties.

Interested in the stories shaping California? Sign up for the free Essential California newsletter >>

Plague is an infectious bacterial disease spread by wild rodents and their fleas. People contract plague when they are bitten by an infected flea or have close contact with an infected rodent.

Modern medicine has mostly eliminated the threat to humans from plague.


Symptoms of plague may include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin. If left untreated, it can be fatal.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.