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School of Self-Reliance


©1990 Christopher Nyerges

Oh, they're so cute!" says the young child to her mother as they both watch the small ground squirrel scampering away at an Angeles Forest camp site. But that cute little ground squirrel is a potential carrier of fleas which can be vectors for the dreaded plague.

Although the danger of plague is believed to be minimal in most parts of the United States,there is potential for serious problems in certain areas. It is not true that plague no longer exists in the U.S., as regular findings in the Angeles National Forest and elsewhere testify.

In fact, while the number of plague cases is still extremely small, the incidence has been increasing in the last 15 to 20 years.

The virus strain is carried by fleas, which are carried by rats, mice, bats, ground squirrels, and domestic pets such as cats and dogs. Plague researchers say that the disease is usually linked with poor sanitation conditions. Most large cities have such large rat populations that contact from plague-carrying rodents from wilderness regions could have disastrous results. The bite of a flea carrying the disease can cause the plague in humans. It can also be contracted by touching or eating an infected animal.

The following suggestions by health authorities are given to hikers who visit the Angeles Forest:

  • Avoid contact with sick or dead animals.

  • Prevent your pets from roaming. Use a leash.

  • Dust your pets with a suitable flea powder and wash them regularly.

  • See a doctor immediately should you become suddenly ill after hiking.
Without treatment, a person infected with the plague could be dead in five days. Historically, the plague has devastated whole societies.

In 542 A.D., there was an outbreak of plague in the Egyptian port of Pelusium, and for the next 30 years it spread widely into Asia and Europe. It was estimated that this outbreak took 100 million lives, making it the most devastating killer of any catastrophe in recorded history.

Again in the 14th century, plague wiped out what was believed to be half of mankind alive at that time. Three centuries later, one in every five London residents died during the Great Plague of 1665-1666.

The results were panic, confusion, and the breakdown of society. Parents, lifelong friends, and children abandoned each other.The dead were thrown indiscriminately into huge pits that were quickly dug, and rotting bodies lay everywhere.

Dr. George Bock, a chief medical officer at the Phoenix Indian Health Service, was asked if the plague could possibly take on such catastrophic proportions today. "You'd better believe it can," he responded. "All it would take is one tribal ceremony or rodeo where crowds would gather. If there was one case in the pneumonic stage, the potential would be horrifying. In addition, he added, someone could pick up the disease in Arizona, fly to Washing D.C. or some other densely populated city, progress into the pneumonic stage and spread the disease.

While we need not be unduly alarmed, we should never underestimate the potential of some of those fleas that might be carried on those cute little ground squirrels.

If any of our present-day systems for dealing with trash, garbage, and human waste fail or cease for whatever reason (major earthquake?), what happened in the 14th century could happen again, here.

"Don't forget to take
your canis-pal!
(with plenty of water just for him / her)"

Local Hiking Trails
The CCC Road
The Switzers Area
The Falls
Millard Canyon
Mt. Lowe
Garbage: Good Enough to Eat?
Scoutleader Landry