SANTA FE – The New Mexico Department of Health confirmed today a third case of bubonic plague in Santa Fe County so far this year. A 56-year-old man was hospitalized and is back home recovering. The Department of Health is conducting an environmental investigation at the man’s residence to determine if there is any ongoing risk to people.
The Department also confirmed a plague case in a dog from north of the city of Taos and a cat case from the Arroyo Hondo area southeast of the city of Santa Fe. Earlier this month the Department reported a fatal case in an 8-year-old Santa Fe County boy and a case in his 10-year-old sister who recovered. There have been a total of three human cases in New Mexico, all in Santa Fe County, so far this year.
“We are seeing plague activity in many different locations of north-central New Mexico,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian at the Department of Health. “Everyone needs to be aware of the situation and take precautions to avoid rodents and their fleas.”
Most people become ill two to seven days after being infected with the plague bacteria. Symptoms of bubonic plague in humans include fever, painful swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck areas, chills, and sometimes headache, vomiting, and diarrhea. Septicemic plague occurs when the bacteria gets into the bloodstream and can present with high fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Pneumonic plague occurs when the bacteria gets into the lungs and can include severe cough, difficulty breathing and bloody sputum. With prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced.
“In all three of our human cases this year, people have been bitten by fleas. Roaming and hunting pets that bring rodents or their fleas back into the home and bedroom is one of the risk factors for two of these cases,” said Dr. Ettestad. “Preventing your pets from roaming and hunting rodents, using a flea control product on all your pets, and not allowing them to sleep in bed with you are three things you can do to decrease your risk of being bitten by an infected flea.”
Plague, a bacterial disease of rodents, 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.
To prevent cases of plague, the Department of Health recommends:
• Avoid sick or dead rodents.
• Teach children not to play near rodent nests or burrows.
• Treat pets regularly with an effective flea control product.
• Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live.
• Keep pets from roaming and hunting.
• Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.
Symptoms in cats and dogs are similar to humans. Fever, lethargy, not eating, and swollen lymph nodes (usually in the neck area) are the most common signs.
There was one human case of plague in 2008 in an Eddy County man.
There were five human cases of plague in Bernalillo, San Juan, Santa Fe and Torrance counties in 2007 with one fatality.
Eight human plague cases occurred in New Mexico in 2006 with three fatalities.