Sacramento, CA — California health officials are investigating a case of the plague that a child contracted while vacationing in the Stanislaus National Forest (STF) and Yosemite National Park.
The plague is an infectious bacterial disease carried by rodents and their fleas, according to the state health officials, who announced today that they are conducting an environmental evaluation of the immediate and surrounding areas visited by the patient’s family.
In mid-July, the child, who is from Los Angeles County, became ill after camping at Yosemite’s Crane Flat Campground and visiting STF.
Now hospitalized, the child is recovering. The name, age and gender has not been released for privacy reasons and no family members have come down with the disease.
California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith says it is unlikely those traveling in the park or forest will come down with the disease. “The child can’t give it to anyone else,” she states. She adds, “It’s rare that you have a group of people touching a sick animal in the wild. If they didn’t come into contact with rodents or areas with a lot of rodent activity, I wouldn’t be at all worried.”
Currently, the CDPH is working closely with other agencies to determine the source of the infection through testing of the rodent population. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Yosemite National Park and the U. S. Forest Service are among those collaborating.
The US Public Health Service Officer with the National Park Service, Dr. Danielle Buttke explains, “Currently at the park, rodents and their fleas are being trapped to test to see if they have been exposed to plague.”
She adds, “This is something that we do routinely as our park surveillance program, but we’re doing additional steps to investigate where the case patient had visited, to see if there is any sign of plague there.”
Buttke says the collected samples will be sent to the state’s laboratory for testing. When asked if the Crane Flat Campground could be shut down, Buttke stressed, “At this point, it’s still hard to say. We’d have to get those results back from the lab before we would have enough information to make those types of decisions.” Notices requesting that visitors not touch wild animals are already posted in the park. She says additional postings, alerting visitors to the plague incident, are now going up.
In the summer of 2012, Yosemite faced another health problem when nine visitors came down with the Hantavirus, an airborne virus linked to rodent droppings; three later died, as reported here.
Buttke says that it has been 56 years since the park has seen a case of the plague there, but she did not have any further details on the incident. Elsewhere in California, back in 2006, three patients, one each in Mono, Los Angeles and Kern counties, contracted the plague; all took antibiotics and survived.