Skunk from Fairgrounds tests weak positive for plague
Agricultural Commissioner Ken Smith reported the county has an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for predatory animal control and public health surveillance services with trappers.
“I was in my office and the maintenance man from the fair office came over and indicated they had a problem with skunks,” Smith told the Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday, Sept. 12 meeting.
Smith said he gave the fair USDA Trapper George Affonso’s phone number.
“I heard that they called. I heard that George came over, that he had trapped a number of skunks,” Smith said. He added Affonso each year tests for plague two animals of every kind he takes, bear, bobcat, mountain lion and skunk. Smith said Affonso sent samples from the skunks he trapped to a lab at the University of California, Davis.
“I found out later that one of them had a weak positive,” Smith said. “I didn’t know there was degrees of positive on plague testing but there is.”
Plague is endemic, or constantly present, in Lassen County and most of California. Fleas transmit plague to rodents, according to the state Department of Health Services. According to DHS, plague is a highly infectious bacterial disease that is spread by squirrels, chipmunks and other wild rodents and their fleas. Cats most commonly acquire plague through hunting and eating infected wild rodents. Humans and cats can also get plague from the bites of infectious rodent fleas.
Those who hike or camp near rodent burrows are most likely to contract plague. Dogs don’t usually transmit the disease to humans but cats transmit it to humans in the droplets from their sneezing or coughing.
Once a person contracts plague, he can transmit it to other people. Lassen County has never had a reported case of human plague since 1970 when the statistical tracking began, Alan Jones, of the county environmental health department reported.
Rodent die off is a sign of active plague. Health officials urge those recreating outdoors to wear long pants so they can’t be bitten by fleas.
Following reports in August 2005 of four cases of plague in pet cats in Kern and Placer counties, state health officials urged Californians to keep their cats away from wild rodents and to seek veterinary care if their cat becomes sick with symptoms of the disease.
For the full story, see the Sept. 19 Lassen County Times.
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