The East Mountain area of New Mexico is seeing increased plague activity, prompting state health officials to advise the public to take precautions to prevent plague if spending time outdoors in this area. The East Mountain area includes parts of Bernalillo, Torrance, and Santa Fe counties. 

 

Image/David Benbennick
Image/David Benbennick

The New Mexico Department of Health says a dog from the area near the town of Edgewood in southwestern Santa Fe County tested positive for the dangerous bacterial disease. In 2014,  3 dogs from the Edgewood area and a cat from Torrance County were confirmed positive for plague.

Last month, Torrance County man was diagnosed with plague and has been hospitalized for over 4 weeks to date. He is expected to recover. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page.

“It is very important to have children and pets avoid rodents and their burrows, especially if the rodents appear sick,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health“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. Also, if you have recently handled a rodent or been bitten by their fleas and you develop a high fever and maybe also a painful swollen lymph node you should seek medical attention. This is especially important for those living in the East mountain area.”

The Department of Health recommends the following precautions to prevent plague:

  • 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.

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. 

Although plague is a rare disease, about half of U.S. cases each year occur in New Mexico. 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.

Today, modern antibiotics are effective against plague, but if an infected person is not treated promptly, the disease can be life-threatening.