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On April 2, a ground squirrel from the Doane Valley Campground on Palomar Mountain tested positive for plague, the “black death” disease that ravaged Europe and killed millions during the 14th Century.

“The number of positive squirrels varies from year to year, but finding six to ten in a season would not be unusual,” says Chris Conlan, supervising ecologist with County Vector Control. According to Conlan, plague-infected squirrels only seem to be found at the higher elevations in San Diego County, most often during the summer months.

“This recent [squirrel find] is a bit on the early side,” notes Conlan. Local campgrounds are an ideal place for testing squirrels for plague, due to the moderate to high squirrel populations. However, a busy campground also means an increased risk of squirrels interacting with humans. To make matters worse, campers have been known to unwittingly exacerbate the problem.

“By feeding the squirrels, they may allow an area to support a much higher population than it normally would,” says Conlan. “If there are more squirrels running around, it just increases the odds of a disease being able to multiply and spread.” Conlan recommends that campers avoid contact with squirrels and to keep their food items in an area where squirrels cannot get to them.

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Comments

somefarker April 26, 2009 @ 7:59 p.m.

First of all, there have been SEVERAL plagues in the world, not just one. Specify the bubonic plague please.

Secondly, squirrels CANNOT transmit the plague to humans. They can be infected, but not transmitters. Small parasites, such as fleas, transmit the disease from small mammals to larger mammals.

Thirdly, the bubonic plague is very simple to cure these days with antibiotics. It is not dangerous at all, as long as people who suspect they may be infected head to a hospital and tell their doctor where they've been and what they've been doing, why they think they're infected.

While it may be true that large populations of squirrels increase the chance of infected squirrels, and feeding squirrels increases the population, the squirrels are not the inherent problem. Please don't frighten your readers any more than they need to be and try to get your facts straighter in the future.

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Hobie74 April 26, 2009 @ 9:17 p.m.

Well, I for one am not going to be feeding the squirrels anytime soon. It says on the Center for Disease Control website that you CAN get it from touching the animals. Just let the squirrels fend for themselves!

This is from the website: www.cdc.gov

People usually get plague from being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an infected animal. Millions of people in Europe died from plague in the Middle Ages, when human homes and places of work were inhabited by flea-infested rats. Today, modern antibiotics are effective against plague, but if an infected person is not treated promptly, the disease is likely to cause illness or death.

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medstudent April 28, 2009 @ 8:27 a.m.

Generally speaking, when history bluffs refer to any plague they immediately consider the bubonic plague or "black death", their were many pandemics in regards to this bacterial strand known as Pasteurella pestis until recently when it was renamed Yersinia pestis. This bacterium spreads from infected rodents to humans through infected skin tissue, and furthermore from human to human through sneezing, coughing and other infected tissues. Therefore, the writer in this article was telling the truth. The main way the populations of Western Europe, Alexandria, Asia, and other areas around the world that had died from the bubonic plague were that of being bitten by fleas. So, the first response in this article was also true. To be the safest, do not feed squirrel or other rodents if they are not domesticated. If you do, you are calling the "infected" fleas and rodents to fester around your area, thus having a higher chance of infection. On the brighter note, many general antibiotics easily kill off this bacterium. So keep your head on the swivel, do not do things that are questionable and if you do feel a bit sick and had rodents around in your area go to the doctor as the second response said.

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