Two people have recently contracted plague in New Mexico, the state’s Health Department confirmed. That adds to one case already reported this year. All three required hospitalization, none have died.
The newly infected are two women, a 52-year-old and a 62-year-old, from Santa Fe County.
Mexico’s health department stated it “conducted environmental investigations around the homes of the patients to look for ongoing risk and to ensure the safety of the immediate family and neighbors.”
Plague is a bacterial disease carried by rodents and generally transmitted to humans through flea bites. It can also be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals, including wildlife and pets.
“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,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health.
He recommended keeping pets on a leash or at home.
Last year, New Mexico recognized four cases of human plague in 2016 in Bernalillo, Mora, and Rio Arriba counties, and four cases in 2015 in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties. One person died.
Across the United States, 16 cases were reported and four people died of plague in 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms of plague in humans include a sudden onset of fever, chills, headaches, and weakness. In most cases there is a painful swelling of the lymph nodes 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.
Plague has caused deadly pandemics throughout history, most infamously the Black Death in the 14th century.
Today, it can be treated with antibiotics, but it needs to be caught early or it can still result in death.
To prevent plague, the New Mexico Department of Health recommends the following:
- 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 high 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.