Squirrel Positive for Plague Bacteria in Riverside County
IDYLLWILD, Ca. -- For the first time in nearly a decade, a ground squirrel in the San Jacinto Mountains tested positive for exposure to fleas infected with the bacteria that can cause bubonic plague.

State health officials notified the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health about results from a squirrel the department collected Sept. 6 at the Fern Basin campground north of Idyllwild.

The squirrel was found to have "exposure to fleas infected with bacteria that can cause plague," according to a news release.

Historically, positive test results have occurred routinely among ground squirrels in the mountain region.

And experts say the risk of transmission to humans is minimal.

"There’s no need to be frightened about it, you should just always be cautious about camping in areas where the plague is endemic," Dottie Merki, the county’s environmental health program chief.

County officials ensured that warning signs are clearly posted and recommend that visitors, hikers and campers follow the precautions to prevent contact with fleas, including:

--Avoid contact with ground squirrels, tree squirrels and other wild animals.

--Do not feed or touch wild animals, or touch dead animals.

--Do not rest or camp near animal burrows.

--Protect your pets by leaving them at home, or by keeping them on a leash and using flea-control methods.

--Contact your doctor immediately if you become ill after visiting a known plague area.

Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, chills and tender, swollen lymph nodes