Shore on lake shut down after chipmunks test positive for plague

The beach at Lake Tahoe has been closed to the general public (Picture:Getty/Vector borne disease Section California Dept of Public Health)

A popular beach on the shore of Lake Tahoe in California has been closed to the public after ‘a number of chipmunks’ tested positive for the plague.

Kiva Beach, on the south shore of the vast lake, as well as the nearby Taylor Creek Visitor Center, will remain closed until at least Friday following the detection of the outbreak among resident rodents.

The Forest Service has said it will work to complete ‘eradication treatments’, like flea control’, ahead of the safe re-opening of the visitor facilities.

The chipmunks which were found with traces of the disease had not come into contact with humans, El Dorado County spokesperson Carla Hass told the Tahoe Daily Tribune

The infected chipmunks were discovered by California’s Vector-Borne Disease Section, which routinely captures and tests chipmunks, ground squirrels, mice and other rodents known to carry the plague.

Although the plague is associated with the mass death of Europeans in the 14th century, plague control is a routine problem in California as the disease naturally occurs in the mountains and foothills of the state. 

A number of chipmunks tested positive for the potentially deadly disease (Picture: Vector borne disease Section California Dept of Public Health)

According to the Associated Press, only 20 rodents afflicted with the plague were discovered in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe between 2016 and 2019. 

The plague is also present and tested for in other states like New Mexico, Arizona, southern Oregon, western Nevada and Colorado. 

Between one and 17 human cases are reported in the US each year, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The last Californian to be diagnosed with the disease, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune, contracted the plague in August of last year. El Dorado County officials said that they likely were bitten by a contagious flea while walking their dog nearby to the Tahoe Keys.

The disease took the life of a 10-year-old girl in southwestern Colorado’s La Plata County last month.

In 2015, four people died of the plague nationwide, including two from Colorado; an adult in Pueblo County and a teenager in Larimer County, according to Colorado Public Radio

‘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’, said public health officer Dr. Nancy Williams in a press release.

‘Human cases of plague are extremely rare but can be very serious’, she added.

To protect themselves from the plague, those living, working and hiking in areas with documented plague activity can take many of the same precautions used to prevent Lyme disease – by deterring fleas by limiting skin exposure with long sleeved and legged garments, and even tucking long pants into socks. 

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