The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) is reporting a case of plague in a 57-year-old man from Torrance County who is currently hospitalized in critical condition. Confirmatory testing is being conducted at the NMDOH’s Scientific Laboratory Division. This is the first human case of plague in New Mexico and in the United States this year. An environmental investigation will take place at the man’s home to look for ongoing risk to others in the surrounding area.
“An epidemiologic investigation and an environmental investigation around the home of the plague case are being conducted by NMDOH staff to look for ongoing risk and to ensure the safety of the immediate family and neighbors,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “Staff will go door-to-door to neighbors near the case to inform them about plague found in the area and educate them on reducing their risk. Health care providers and others close to the patient who have been determined to have been exposed are taking preventive antibiotic therapy.”
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.
“Plague cases have occurred every month of the year in New Mexico, but most cases usually occur in the summer months,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health. “It is especially important now that it is warming up to take precautions to avoid rodents and their fleas which can expose you to plague. Pets that are allowed to roam and hunt can bring infected fleas from dead rodents back into the home, putting you and your children at risk.”
To prevent plague, the Department of Health recommends:
- Avoid sick or dead rodents and rabbits, and their nests and burrows.
- Keep your pets from roaming and hunting
- Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on your pets as not all products are safe for cats, dogs, or your children.
- 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.
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. 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 NMDOH.
In New Mexico, there were 4 human plague cases in 2013 with one fatality, one human plague case 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://archive.nmhealth.org/erd/healthdata/plague.shtml
Information from New Mexico Department of Health