YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – Every year, picturesque Yosemite National Park gets about 4 million visitors. But one arrival this summer is definitely not welcome: the plague.
California’s Department of Public Health and the national park announced Thursday that a child who visited nearby Stanislaus National Forest and camped at Yosemite’s Crane Flat Campground in mid-July had contracted the plague.
That child is recovering, and no other members of the camping party have reported any related symptoms.
Still, authorities are monitoring them as well as warning others to be on guard against the flea-transmitted disease.
These extra steps include putting up caution signs at Crane Flat and other campgrounds and urging people to take precautions such as:
• Not feeding squirrels, chipmunks or other rodents or touching sick or dead ones
• Avoiding hiking or camping near rodent burrows
• Putting on long pants tucked into socks or boots with the hope they’ll provide a barrier to fleas
• Spraying insect repellent with DEET on socks and pant cuffs — again, to fend off fleas
• Keeping wild rodents away from homes, trailers and buildings, not to mention pets
Contagious and potentially deadly viruses are not new for Yosemite, where throngs of people flock annually to enjoy breathtaking rocky cliffs, refreshing river waters and dense forests.
In 2012, for instance, three park visitors died after contracting hantavirus.
Yet plague cases are rare not just in Yosemite, but across the United States.
The disease killed millions centuries ago, and — while it can be treated with modern medicine such as antibiotics and antimicrobial — it’s never gone away.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the United States has about seven annual cases, over 80% of which have been in the bubonic form.
There have been three cases reported so far in 2015, which is in line with those numbers.
The other two happened in Colorado and both resulted in deaths, one being a teenager in Larimer County and the other an adult in Pueblo County, as announced Wednesday by the local health department.
The Yosemite case is California’s first instance of human plague since 2006, according to state health officer Dr. Karen Smith, when there were three cases in Mono, Los Angeles and Kern counties.
There have been 42 such cases in the state since 1970, of which nine proved fatal.
“Although this is a rare disease, people should protect themselves from infection by avoiding any contact with wild rodents,” Smith said.