California has plague squirrels. Yes, plague squirrels.
It may sound ridiculous, but it’s true. If you’ll be in Southern California in the coming weeks, you may want to stick to celebrity-tested outdoor fitness spots like Griffith Park and the Santa Monica Stairs to stay in shape, as parts of the Angeles National Forest are closed due to the threat of bubonic plague carried by infected ground squirrels and fleas that can transmit the disease to humans who never even come into contact with a sick squirrel.
(If you were hoping to catch sight of celebrity hiking and camping aficionado Matthew McConaughey with his shirt off this weekend, casually hiking the mountains, all tan and sweaty and zen and wrestling mountain lions, we are truly sorry for your loss. Maybe next time.)
So-Called Plague Squirrels Close Parts of Angeles National Forest
Several Table Mountain campgrounds near Wrightwood were closed to the public Wednesday after L.A. County health officials confirmed a ground squirrel they trapped and tested came back positive for the ominous-sounding illness.
A public advisory warned potential park visitors of the situation and closures, which should last a minimum of a week. “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.”
“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,” the advisory said.
For those who do brave areas where potentially infected squirrels may dwell, even after the campgrounds reopen, officials advise the use of DEET insect repellent (which actually will work to repel the fleas that transmit the disease) and warn against feeding wildlife. Early detection and treatment of fleas on pets can be helpful in preventing the spread of the illness, as well.
If you live in some far-flung corner of the country and your only idea of California is what you see on TV, rest assured, your favorite stars are in no immediate danger. The threat posed by these squirrels and their fleas is relatively minor, and the areas currently affected are actually quite a ways from greater L.A.; so no, the bubonic plague likely hasn’t made it’s way into the hills of Hollywood just yet.
(Although,we have to say we feel there is plenty of potential for a new so-bad-it’s-good SyFy flick in this story. Tara Reid, you obviously know somebody over there; we’re all very ready to forget “Sharknado” ever happened. “Plague Squirrels Attack Hollywood” just sounds like more way fun, anyway. The shark thing’s been done, but squirrels infected with the Black Death…now that screams terror. Make it happen.)