The New Mexico Department of Health reports plague in a 67-year-old man from Bernalillo County whose illness was likely caused by a bite he sustained from a wild prairie dog from Santa Fe County. The man was hospitalized and now is home recovering. Confirmatory testing was performed at the Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division. This is the third human plague case in New Mexico this year.
“In New Mexico, plague affects people and animals, including some wild animals and pets such as cats and dogs,” said Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher. “Avoiding interaction of any kind with wild animals, especially animals that may be sick, is one way to reduce your risk of contracting plague.”
Plague is a bacterial disease that cycles between rodents and their fleas 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, certain wildlife, and pets.
“Late spring and summer are when we see most cases of plague, but cases can occur throughout the year in New Mexico,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health. “Sick or dead rodents and rabbits are being reported from many areas in the state. It is very important 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 plague-infected fleas from dead rodents back into the home, putting you and your family 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 rodents 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 signs in cats and dogs include 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 death rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced. Physicians who suspect plague should promptly contact the Department of Health.
In New Mexico, there were 4 human plague cases identified in 2015 with one death.
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