New Mexico health officials have confirmed the first human plague case of 2017 in a 63-year-old man from Santa Fe County. The patient is currently hospitalized and being treated.
The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) is conducting an environmental investigation at the man’s home to look for ongoing risk and to ensure the health of the immediate family and neighbors. Additionally, staff are going door-to-door to neighbors near the patient’s home to inform them about plague found in the area and educate them on reducing their risk.
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. To date, there have been ten dogs and five cats with confirmed plague in New Mexico in 2017. The animals come from Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance, and Taos counties.
“Plague activity has been widespread in northcentral New Mexico this spring,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health. “Sick or dead rodents and rabbits are being reported from different areas in the state so 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 children at risk.”
To prevent plague, the Department of Health recommends residents:
- Avoid sick or dead rodents and rabbits, and their nests and burrows.
- Keep pets from roaming and hunting.
- Provide safe and effective flea control for pets; if possible, talk with a veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on pets as not all products are safe for cats, dogs, or 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 a healthcare provider about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever.
- Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from the 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 which is a sign of the most common form of plague. There are two other forms of plague seen less commonly in which people can have fever, chills, weakness and abdominal pain indicating the type of plague that is in their bloodstream, and sometimes shortness of breath, chest pain and cough indicating pneumonia that can be associated with plague. Plague signs in cats and dogs are fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. There may be a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw of pets. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment can greatly reduce the risk of death in people. Healthcare providers who suspect a patient may have plague should promptly report it to the Department of Health on-call epidemiologist using the Reporting & Surveillance hotline at 505-827-0006.
There were four human plague cases identified in New Mexico in 2016. All four cases recovered.
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