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Santa Fe County man diagnosed with bubonic plague

Environmental investigation underway to determine risk to others
An electron micrograph shows Yersinia pestis bacteria, the cause of bubonic plague.

FARMINGTON – New Mexico has its first positive human plague case in 2020.

A Santa Fe County man in his 60s was diagnosed with bubonic plague and is recovering in a local hospital, the New Mexico Department of Health announced Monday.

“This is a reminder that even during a pandemic, other infectious diseases are out that can still put your health at risk,” Kathy Kunkel, secretary of the Department of Health, said in a news release.

An environmental investigation from the health department is underway at the person’s home to identify any potential risks to immediate family members, neighbors or the surrounding community.

“All New Mexicans need to be aware of the risks for contracting diseases like plague and take the necessary precautions to avoid them,” the news release said.

While it is not certain how the man contracted the plague – a bacterial disease most commonly found in wildlife – it is typically transmitted to humans and pets through the bites of infected fleas. Pets have also been known to contract the disease after eating an already-infected animal.

Symptoms in humans include a sudden fever, chills, headache and muscle weakness, and the disease is often accompanied by swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin. In cats and dogs, plague symptoms include fever, loss of appetite and lethargy.

There was one case of animal plague earlier this year in a dog in Santa Fe County, according to the state health department.

New Mexico’s first case of bubonic plague in a person this year comes a week after San Juan Basin Public Health announced a La Plata County resident had tested positive for septicemic plague. Health officials said it was thought the disease was transmitted by fleas from a ground squirrel. Septicemic plague, less common than bubonic plague, cannot be transmitted from person to person.

The last case of human plague in La Plata County was reported in 2014, according to the public health agency.

To prevent the plague, the New Mexico Department of Health recommends avoiding sick or dead rodents and rabbits; cleaning up areas near a residence where rodents could live, like brush piles, woodpiles and abandoned vehicles; and putting hay, wood and compost piles as far away from a home as possible.

The department also recommended pet owners talk to a veterinarian about using a flea control product on pets; preventing pets from roaming and hunting; having sick pets examined by a veterinarian; and keeping a pet’s food and water away from where wildlife and rodents could get to it.

The plague fatality rate with people and pets is lowered with a quick diagnosis and antibiotic treatment, according to state health officials. Anyone suspecting plague can report it to the New Mexico Department of Health at (505) 827-0006.


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