Just as an interlude before I get back to County Vector Surveillance, here are some facts about plague in CA and the US from the United States Center for Disease Control. Facts that prove the chance of getting plague from a ground squirrel in Santa Monica is as close to zero as ecological statistics would allow.
From the Center for Disease Control Website:
Plague will probably continue to exist in its many localized geographic areas around the world, and plague outbreaks in wild rodent hosts will continue to occur. Attempts to eliminate wild rodent plague are costly and futile. Therefore, primary preventive measures are directed toward reducing the threat of infection in humans in high risk areas through environmental management, public health education, and preventive drug therapy.
Epidemic plague is best prevented by controlling rat populations in both urban and rural areas. Control of plague in such situations requires two things: 1) close surveillance for human plague cases, and for plague in rodents, and 2) the use of an effective insecticide to control rodent fleas when human plague cases and rodent outbreaks occur.
Public Health Education
In regions such as the American West where plague is widespread in wild rodents, the greatest threat is to people living, working, or playing in areas where the infection is active. Public health education of citizens and the medical community should include information on the following plague prevention measures:
Eliminating food and shelter for rodents in and around homes, work places, and recreation areas by making buildings rodent-proof, and by removing brush, rock piles, junk, and food sources (such as pet food), from properties.
Surveillance for plague activity in rodent populations by public health workers or by citizens reporting rodents found sick or dead to local health departments.
Use of appropriate and licensed insecticides to kill fleas during wild animal plague outbreaks to reduce the risk to humans.
Treatment of pets (dogs and cats) for flea control once each week.
(My Comment: That is, you look before you kill, and if plague is happening, you use flea powder. The cost of trapping a few Palisades Park squirrels four times a year and testing the fleas would be a couple of thousand dollars, tops. Other diseases can be surveilled as well, such as Hantavirus or rabies.)
CDC: Human plague in the United States has occurred as mostly scattered cases in rural areas--an average of 5 to 15 cases a year. In the United States, the last urban plague epidemic occurred in Los Angeles in 1924-25. About 14% (1 in 7) of all plague cases in the United States are fatal.
Most cases in the U.S. receive some antibiotic treatment during their course of illness and deaths typically result from delays in seeking treatment or misdiagnosis.
My Comment: In all of the United States, there are 5-15 cases a year and 1/7th die. That is, about 1-2 people a year die from plague in the entire country, and most cases are in rural settings. So, in any year, you have a 1/300,000,000 chance of dying of plague, about 20,000 times less chance of dying in an auto accident.
For that, Santa Monica is required to pay $150,000 to find ways of killing squirrels to prevent a non-existant peril?
There has been ONE urban case of plague recently, and that was in Los Angeles. But it was caused by handling the meat from an infected rabbit in Kern County.
CDC: On April 17, a woman aged 28 years received the first diagnosis of plague in Los Angeles County, California, since 1984.
The woman was hospitalized with fever, septic shock, and a painful right axillary swelling; blood cultures grew Y. pestis. She responded to treatment with gentamicin and levofloxacin. Although symptoms were compatible with bubonic plague, the diagnosis had not been suspected because the patient did not report traveling outside her urban Los Angeles neighborhood. Later, health-care providers learned that the patient had handled raw meat from a rabbit that had been killed in Kern County, California, and transported to her home.
An environmental investigation in Kern County revealed evidence of die-off among jackrabbits and cottontails; rabbit carcasses collected in the area yielded Y. pestis. PFGE patterns of isolates from the patient and rabbits were indistinguishable.
Therefore, Plague is not an issue; if it were, surveilance and insecticide are the tools, not killing. If there are other risks, it would be incumbent on the County to do an assessment, or for the City to do it, if necessary, as a rebuttal. There is no rationale to continue an 80-year old tradition founded during years of high plague activity, and continuing indiscriminately with no risk assessment.