Monday, July 29, 2013

Plague-infected squirrel closes Los Angeles park

California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi)

Parts of a national forest in California have been evacuated and closed down after a squirrel was found to be infected with the (bubonic) plague.  Los Angeles officials say visitors were ordered to leave the Angeles National Forest as a precaution after the rodent was trapped in a routine check.

They said no people in the area were believed to have been infected with the disease, known as the Black Death. The plague killed millions of Europeans during the Middle Ages.

It sounds like a screenplay for a B-movie: bubonic plague-infected squirrels descend on Los Angeles. But despite the excitement among Angelenos on social media about the "Black Death"  found at  the popular California campsite, health officials say this is not a problem for urban squirrels.
City conditions do not lend themselves to having fleas co-existing in large numbers as they would in a forested area, they say. ( Okay, if you say so)

It is a bacterial infection which can be transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas.
If not treated with antibiotics, it is usually deadly.  Further testing of squirrels in the region will be carried out before the campgrounds are re-opened to the public.

Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said that agriculture workers would dust squirrel burrows in order to reduce the flea population. He said that while the area was closed to camping, people would still be able to hike through. He advised that anyone who wished to  hike in the area so should use insect repellent .

Geez Louise ! That's put the kibosh on my holiday plans. I will not be hiking through, camping in or even flying over that particular piece of America for quite a while, (even if I bathed in insect repellent). Bubonic Plague decimated the population of Europe. The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, killing from 100 million/ 200 million people and peaking in Europe in the years 1348–50.
It is thought to have started in China . It then travelled along the Silk Road and reached the Crimea by 1346. From there, it was most likely carried by rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships. Spreading throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, the Black Death is estimated to have killed 30 to 60% of Europe's total population and influenced culture, religion and changed the course of history.

 Picture this: Death carts rattling through the towns, collecting bodies and the mournful cry of, "Bring out your dead", echoing down the near empty streets. The corpses, thrown in piles and buried in deep pits...mass graves.  Okay, we have antibiotics now and it probably would not kill most people but the whole association is creepy, nasty and F***ing terrifying.

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