Bubonic plague confirmed in Los Angeles woman

Los Angeles County health officials have confirmed a case of bubonic plague in an adult woman. This is the first human case of plague in a Los Angeles County resident since 1984.

The affected individual resides in the Country Club Park area of the city of Los Angeles. The woman, who came down with symptoms one week ago and remains hospitalized, may have been exposed to fleas in the area around her home. The investigation is continuing. "Bubonic plague is not usually transmissible from person to person," says Jonathan Fielding, M.D., M.P.H, Director of Public Health and Health Officer, Los Angeles County. "Fortunately, human plague infection is rare in urban environments, and this single case should not be a cause for alarm in the area where it occurred." "Plague is characterized by fever, muscle aches, nausea, headache, sore throat, fatigue, and swollen, tender lymph nodes associated with the arm or leg that has flea bites and is treatable with antibiotics," added Dr. Roshan Reporter of the Acute Communicable Disease Control Program. "The disease often causes illness serious enough to warrant hospitalization, but if treated is rarely fatal."

Bubonic plague is endemic among ground squirrels around Tehachapi, Lake Isabella, Frazier Park, and in the Angeles National Forest between Los Angeles and Antelope Valley. Los Angeles County health officials annually send out warnings for campers, hikers and residents in those areas to take precautions against the disease mainly by avoiding ground squirrels and their fleas.

While plague is common among wild animals in certain areas, it seldom spreads to humans.

Los Angeles County Department of Health Services Public Health workers set out traps today for squirrels and other wild animals in the area where the woman lives. Blood samples from the trapped animals will be sent to Los Angeles County Public Health Laboratory for testing to determine exposure to the plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis. However, the woman's illness is no indication that conditions this year pose any greater risk of humans contracting the disease.

Health officials urge residents to trim ivy, ground cover and other heavy vegetation which can harbor rats, and provide cover for ground squirrels.

"Outside openings to attics, crawl spaces and similar locations should be sealed off so rats and squirrels cant get into houses, garages or other structures," says Frank Hall, Chief of the Countys Vector Management Program. "Pet owners should make an extra effort to keep their domestic animals free of fleas and avoid leaving out pet food where it can attract wild animals."

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