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Department Of Health Reports Fatal Plague Case In Bernalillo County Man

The New Mexico Department of Health announced today a fatal case of plague in an 80-year-old man from Bernalillo County. Confirmatory testing was performed at the Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division. This is the fourth human case of plague in New Mexico and in the United States this year. An environmental investigation by the Urban Biology Division of the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department will take place at the man’s home to look for ongoing risk to others in the surrounding area.  

“The Department of Health will work with health care providers and others close to the patient to determine if they have been exposed to plague and require preventive treatment,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “As winter approaches, it’s important for families to keep wood piles – where rodents can live -- as far away from your home as possible.”

Plague is a bacterial disease of rodents and is generally transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, but can also be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, wildlife and pets.

“People living in areas known to have plague should ensure that their dogs and cats are treated year-round with flea control.  This will help prevent domestic animals from bringing plague infected fleas into the home,” said Dr. Paul Smith with the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department.

Symptoms of plague in humans include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, and weakness. In most cases there is a painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit or neck areas. Plague symptoms in cats and dogs are fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. There may be a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw.

“Though the peak of plague activity is during the summer months from May to August, we have had human plague cases in New Mexico every month of the year,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian at the Department of Health. “Taking precautions year round should be a routine that everyone takes seriously.”    

To prevent plague, the Department of Health also recommends:

  • Keep your pets from roaming and hunting
  • Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live, such as woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned vehicles.
  • Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.
  • See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever.

·         Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from your home.
·         Don’t leave your pet’s food and water where mice can get to it.

With prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced. Physicians who suspect plague should promptly report to the New Mexico Department of Health.

The first 3 human plague cases in New Mexico this year were in a 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, both from Torrance County; and a 52-year old man from Santa Fe County. All 3 have recovered. There was one human plague case in New Mexico in 2012, two human cases of plague in 2011, no cases in 2010, and six human cases of plague in 2009, one of them fatal.

For more information, including fact sheets in English and Spanish, go to the Department of Health’s website at: http://nmhealth.org/ERD/HealthData/plague.shtml