A child has contracted the plague after a camping trip to Yosemite National Park and Stanislaus National Forest, prompting state health officials to launch an emergency investigation and perform an environmental evaluation to determine if the bacterial disease has spread.
The child, who was identified only as a resident of Los Angeles County, became ill and was hospitalized following a family trip to Stanislaus National Forest and camping at Crane Flat Campground in Yosemite National Park in mid-July, health officials said this week.
Tests on the child conducted by the state Public Health Laboratory came back positive for plague on Wednesday, officials said. It’s the first time the disease has been diagnosed in the state in almost a decade, said Dr. Karen Smith, Director of the California Department of Public Health.
State officials are now working with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and park and forest officials to determine the exact source of the child’s infection. As part of their investigation, health officials are looking at the child’s travel history and activities before becoming sick.
Plague is an infectious bacterial disease that is carried by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas. When an infected rodent becomes sick and dies, its fleas can carry the infection to other warm-blooded animals or humans.
A person who contracts plague may have symptoms that start off similar to the flu: fever, chills, weakness, swollen and painful lymph nodes and sometimes pneumonia. The disease can be treated with antibiotics if it’s caught early, but without quick treatment it can cause serious illness or death.
The last reported cases of human plague in California occurred in 2005 and 2006 in Mono, Los Angeles and Kern counties. In all three cases, the patients survived following treatment with antibiotics. There have been no known cases of human-to-human infection in California since 1924.
News of the infection came just a day after officials in Pueblo, Colorado, said that an area adult had died from the plague, the second person in the state to succumb this summer to a form of the centuries-old scourge. The other victim, a 16-year-old boy in Larimer County, died in June. Last year, Colorado recorded the first-ever known case of dog-to-human transmission of the plague.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of seven cases of plague are reported each year, mostly in Western states.