Last year was the year of the murder hornets and flying ants. This year, it's plague chipmunks. The AP reports that certain sections on the south shores of California's Lake Tahoe have been temporarily closed after some of the striped rodents tested positive for the infectious disease. Due to that discovery, as well as vector control treatments by the US Forest Service set up for this week, Kiva Beach and the Taylor Creek Visitor Center have been shuttered through Friday, reports the Tahoe Daily Tribune. The sites are expected to be reopened by the weekend. An El Dorado County spokesperson says the chipmunks aren't believed to have had human contact. According to the California Department of Public Health, the bacterium that causes the plague, Yersinia pestis, is naturally occurring in parts of California, including in El Dorado County, per Live Science.
The plague, which caused the Black Death in Europe in the 1300s that killed tens of millions of people, is an infectious bacterial illness that's typically spread by rodents like chipmunks, squirrels, and rats, as well as their fleas. Humans can contract the plague by getting bitten by an infected flea, handling tissue or bodily fluids of an infected animal, or breathing in cough droplets from an infected person, though that hasn't been documented in the US since 1924, per the CDC. Human cases—whose symptoms include fever, weakness, nausea, and swollen lymph nodes—are very rare, however, and can usually be treated with antibiotics if caught early. Public health officials advise locals to keep away from wild rodents, which includes not feeding them at campgrounds or picnic sites. Pets should also be kept at home instead of being brought to areas with higher risk of plague. (Read more plague stories.)