1st human plague case of 2021 confirmed in New Mexico — here’s how to protect yourself and your pets

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — A case of the human plague was found in New Mexico.

The first human case of the Bubonic plague in the state of New Mexico this year was reported by the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) on Friday.

The case was confirmed by the New Mexico Scientific Laboratory Division.

The patient is a resident of Torrance County, which is just southeast of Albuquerque, being treated at a local hospital and expected to make a full recovery.

NMDOH said the patient most likely contracted the plague from flea bites brought home by a pet. An environmental investigation is set to take place at the patient’s home to determine whether there is an ongoing risk to immediate family members, neighbors and the surrounding community.

The plague killed 25 million people across Europe between 1347 and 1351.

“This case is a reminder that even during a pandemic, other infectious diseases can still be a threat,” said Acting Secretary David R. Scrase, MD. “Plague cases are routinely diagnosed among animals — and sometimes passed on to humans.”

The plague is a bacterial disease found in wildlife — primarily rodents — and is usually transmitted to people and pets through bites from infected fleas. Humans may become infected with the plague by sharing a bed with pets that may be carrying fleas.

NMDOH recommends the following: 

  • Avoid ill or dead rodents and rabbits, as well as their nests and burrows 
  • Prevent your pets from roaming and hunting 
  • Consult your pets’ veterinarian about using appropriate flea control products 
  • Clean up areas near your home where rodents could live, such as:
    • Woodpiles
    • Brush 
    • Piles
    • Junk 
    • Abandoned vehicles
    • Keep hay, wood and compost piles as far from your home as possible
    • Don’t leave your pet’s food and water anywhere accessible to wildlife or rodents 
    • Take ill pets to be examined promptly
  • Consult your doctor about any unexplained illness you may be experiencing involving sudden and severe fever

Additional symptoms of the plague in humans include:

  • Sudden onset of chills
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit and neck

Symptoms in dogs and cats are:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes under the jaw

NMDOH says that the fatality rate of the plague can be reduced with swift diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment. In 2020, four human plague cases were reported in New Mexico.

For more information about thepPlague, including fact sheets in English and Spanish, visit the Department of Health’s website.

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