Friday, July 26, 2013

Bubonic plague shuts LA park

There may be rising concerns amongst residents of Los Angeles after a national park was closed after a squirrel was found to have been infected with the bubonic plague.

Los Angeles County health officials confirmed this week that a trapped ground squirrel tested positive for plague, and as a precaution parts of the Angeles National Forest near Wrightwood had been closed.


"Plague is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, which is why we close affected campgrounds and recreational areas as a precaution while preventive measures are taken to control the flea population," Jonathan E. Fielding, head of the health department, said in the advisory.

"It is important for the public to know that there have only been four cases of human plague in Los Angeles County residents since 1984, none of which were fatal," he said.

The ground squirrel population in the San Gabriel Mountains has been known to have the plague, and officials said squirrel burrows in the affected area will be dusted for fleas.


Officials also advised those visiting areas nearby the Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow and Pima Loops to take precautions, such as not feeding wild animals and preventing pets from getting fleas.

In the advisory, officials said "transmission of plague through flea bites causes bubonic plague, with symptoms including enlargement of lymph glands (buboes) near the flea bite and rapid onset of fever and chills."

"Untreated bubonic plague can progress to infection of the blood, or rarely, the lungs, causing pneumonic plague," the advisory said, adding that all types of the plague can be fatal if not treated, though patients generally respond well to antibiotic therapy.

Historical lessons

Bubonic plague is also known as the Black Death, or more simply the 'plague', and was responsible for killing at least 25 million Europeans during the Middle Ages.

The Black Death originated in or near China and spread by way of the Silk Road or by ship. It may have reduced world population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million by the year 1400.

Biological warfare

Some of the earliest instances of biological warfare were said to have been products of the plague. Armies in the 14th century were recorded catapulting diseased corpses over the walls of towns and villages to spread the pestilence.

More recently, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service bombed Ningbo in China with fleas carrying the bubonic plague. During the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials, the accused, such as Major General Kiyashi Kawashima, testified that, in 1941, some 40 members of Unit 731 air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas on Changde in Hunan province, China. These operations caused epidemic plague outbreaks killing an estimated 7,643 Chinese.

More reports: BBC / Sky News / LA Daily News / LA Times

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

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