Three ground squirrels trapped on Palomar Mountain have tested positive for plague, but the risk of transmission of the disease to humans appears to be low, the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health reported Wednesday.
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Two of the squirrels were caught at Cedar Grove Campground and the third was at Doane Campground, both in the north inland section of the county.
According to the DEH, positive readings for plague are common in the summer. The risk of transmission to humans is low because the squirrels' exposure to the plague bacteria was not recent, and they did not carry many of the types of fleas necessary to transmit the disease, the agency reported.
Plague killed millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages, when it was known as "Black Death." Today, it is treatable with modern antibiotics, though it can cause serious illness or death without prompt medical attention, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
"Set up your tents away from squirrel burrows, do not feed the squirrels and warn your children not to play with squirrels," said Jack Miller, the DEH director.
The agency also suggests keeping dogs on leashes while at campgrounds, using flea control measures or keeping the pets at home. Also, do not touch or feed wild animals or touch sick or dead wildlife.
The DEH posts warning signs in areas where rodents test positive for plague.
The department urges anyone who falls ill within one week of visiting a plague-infested area to see a doctor. Symptoms include a sudden onset of fever, chills, and tender or swollen lymph nodes.
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