- SAN BERNARDINO, California (CNN) -- El Niño has been blamed for tornadoes,
floods, mudslides and torrential rains. Now California health officials
fear the weather pattern could spawn an outbreak of bubonic plague.
- Standing water left by the rain and flooding
could lead to diseases borne by pests that thrive in stagnant water, officials
- "Our concerns are that there's a
greater amount of standing water in more places and it will be there for
longer periods of time," said Joseph Krygier, an environmental health
- Among the fears is a bumper crop of mosquitoes
capable of transmitting to humans several potentially deadly diseases,
- Pest control experts also worry that
El Niño's heavy rains have produced conditions that could lead to
a rodent explosion in the mountains east of Los Angeles. More rodents raises
the risk of an outbreak of the bubonic plague, the so-called "black
death" that killed millions in Europe during the Middle Ages.
- "Because of the increased rainfall,
the environment will support possibly more ground squirrels than it did
last year and there would be more fleas on those squirrels, so there would
be an increased potential for that disease to proliferate in the environment,"
- Bubonic plague is a contagious disease
transmitted by fleas from infected rodents and is characterized by fever,
prostration, swollen lymph nodes and delirium.
- In New Mexico, health officials fear
an outbreak of hantavirus, which causes flu-like symptoms and sometimes
leads to a fatal lung or kidney disease. Hantavirus is spread by contact
with rodent urine and feces.
- "We have gotten better at recognizing,
diagnosing and treating it," said Dr. Diane Goade of the University
of New Mexico. "But it still remains a rapidly progressing, very severe
disease with a very high mortality rate, one of the highest mortality rates
of any infectious diseases we see."
- The last major outbreak of hantavirus
five years ago was blamed on another El Niño weather pattern.
- "Young people were coming in and
crashing in front of our eyes," Goade said. "It was incredibly
- Health officials emphasize they aren't
trying to scare anyone but they are concerned about the health risks posed
by pests thriving on El Nino's aftereffects.
- Officials are already working overtime
to control mosquitoes and rodents before any problems arise.