Thoughts & Views: Now don’t get all squirrelly



Mulling possible topics for this week’s column, I first thought of Anthony Weiner. But the man is such an egotism-warped, morally/ethically/ truthiness-challenged fool, writing about him would be too depressing.

Instead, I am writing about the Black Death.

Also known as the bubonic plague.

The Black Death, carried by fleas that were infesting the rats that were infesting merchant ships, is thought to have originated in Asia in the 14th century. According to Wikipedia, by the mid-century it had spread to Europe, first via the Silk Road and then into multiple ports on the aforementioned ships.

The peak plague years were 1348-1350. An estimated 75 million to 200 million people died. By other estimates, the plague killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s total population.

I have often wondered why the disease just disappeared.

Well, guess what? It didn’t. It’s still around.

Right now, it’s apparently up in the hills above Los Angeles, where four campgrounds in the Angeles National Forest were closed last week after a plague-infected squirrel was found dead in a trap. (I have warned you, my readers, before: Camping–indeed any outdoor activity in spooky, woody places–is not wise. There are bears out there. And serial killers. And now, plagueinfected squirrels.)

I had to learn about the squirrel from Craig Ferguson since the local news channels, at least the ones I watched, did not see fit to report it, being more concerned with interminable weather reports.

At first, I was frightened. But then I learned something extraordinary: The Black Death is now readily curable. Thanks to antibiotics. Provided the victim is treated within 24 hours of the appearance of symptoms.

I find that amazing. I mean, I am aware of all our wonder drugs (by which I mean ones that actually work and don’t end up causing more problems than they cure), but to think that something that killed millions is now easily treated with some pills does astonish my small brain.

Info on plague symptoms and everything else you might want to know is available from the Centers for Disease Control’s Frequently Asked Questions About Plague website. I am not making that up. Check out

And if you have a strong stomach and want to know what bubonic plague looks like, you can check Google images and see why it was also called the Black Death.

As for plague in the modern era: “Plague was first introduced into the United States in 1900, by rat-infested steamships that had sailed from affected areas, mostly from Asia,” the CDC says. “The last urban plague epidemic in the United States occurred in Los Angeles [!] from 1924 through 1925. Plague then spread from urban rats to rural rodent species, and became entrenched in many areas of the western United States.”

According to the CDC, five to 15 cases of plague in humans are recorded annually in the western states. Specific areas detailed on the FAQ website.

Reuters reported that the Los Angeles County Department of Health last week assured the public that “there have been only four cases of human plague in Los Angeles County residents since 1984, none of which were fatal.”

As for the Angeles National Forest, squirrel burrows are reportedly being dusted for fleas.

There. Now haven’t I brightened your day? Are you not reassured?

Now, why is it that the Spanish Flu, which in 1918-1920 killed 50 million to 100 million people worldwide, has never reappeared? Or has it? Or will it?

Just asking.

– Karen Zautyk

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