Plague in Angeles Nat Forest

By July 27, 2013

A plague-infected ground squirrel was discovered in the Angeles National Forest in California. An excess of fleas tipped public health investigators to irregularity in the creature, which was discovered dead on July 16 with a formal diagnosis issued 10 days later.

The squirrel was recovered in the Table Mountain campgrounds near Wrightwood, north-east of Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley. As a precautionary measure the Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow and Pima Loops sites have been closed.

The area will be swept and squirrel dens treated with additional testing conducted. A portion of the Angeles National Forest extends into the southwestern part of San Bernardino County.  Tests will be conducted as far east as Big Bear Lake, Lake Arrowhead and Running Springs, according to a report in The Daily Breeze, which conducted an interview with the chief of the San Bernardino County Environmental Health Services Division.

Chart featuring a squirrel, chipmunk, rat and mouse -- forest animals susceptible to the fleas that carry plague.

Courtesy National Park Services

As per that report, 2001 was the last time plague was detected in San Bernardino County. The Los Angeles County Public Health Department issued a written advisory that said since 1996 there have been five other instances of plague-infected squirrels discovered in L.A. County, but only four human cases since 1984, none of them fatal.

Mention of “bubonic plague” conjures images of medieval times, where it was transmitted by rats to residents of 14th century Europe, resulting in an epidemic known as “the Black Death” that killed an estimated 25 million people.

Plague is most commonly spread via flea bite. It is recommended that anyone on the trails use bug spray such as DEET.  Farnam’s Centaur brand of insect repellent is safe for both horse and rider. Plague can be fatal to equines, though they enjoy something of a natural barrier in that fleas are repelled by their smell and thus will avoid feeding on them if alternative sustenance is available.

However, fleas can live in grain and cloth while awaiting the opportunity to find rodent host, so stable life is not necessarily a hostile environment.

According to the Smithsonian Institution’s, there are three types of plague to which humans are susceptible: bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic, and “the disease is passed as fleas regurgitate plague bacilli when biting, when flea feces are scratched into the skin, or when the host ingests an infected flea.”

The Angeles National Forest encompasses 655,000 acres spanning the San Gabriel Mountains. A tiny of the northwestern-most portion extends into Ventura County. Horseback riding is permitted on all Angeles National Forest trails and roads, except for nature trails. The Sulphur Springs Trail Camp and Deer Flats Group Campground offer camping facilities. Available paths for equestrian use include: the Mount Waterman, Jackson Lake, Castle Canyon and Devil’s Punchbowl trails.

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2 Comments for “Plague in Angeles Nat Forest”

  1. teej

    I’m a backpacker and don’t ride horses but I know that the equestrian facilities at Sulphur Springs Campground have been removed.
    Dear Flats still accommodates horses though.

  2. Paula Parisi

    Oh, I wasn’t aware there were actual equestrian facilities there at one point. Just assumed they were talking about trails. Will double-check to see if those trails still accommodate horses. Thanks for the info!

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