A 59-year-old Bernalillo County woman has been confirmed as the third human plague case of the year in the Land of Enchantment and the second case from Bernalillo County, health officials report today.

The woman is recovering from her illness.

New Mexico
Bernalillo County, New Mexico/David Benbennick

“All three of New Mexico’s human plague cases this year have been septicemic plague, which is less common and more difficult to recognize,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “I urge all health care providers who see patients with a fever of unknown origin, and who are presenting from plague endemic areas of the state to consider plague in their diagnosis.”

Earlier this summer, a Santa Fe County man died from the plague being the only fatality so far this year.

Today’s case make the 13th plague case in the US this year–Arizona (two), California (one), Colorado (four), Georgia (one), New Mexico (three), Oregon (one) and Utah (one).

Plague is a potentially fatal illness in people that occurs in many parts of New Mexico. It is caused by bacteria found in rodents, especially ground squirrels, rabbits and hares. Most human cases of plague are acquired through the bite of infected fleas.  Dogs and cats are also susceptible to plague and are infected either through bites of infected fleas or by eating an animal that has died from the disease.

“With the high level of plague activity this year, we really want to encourage people in plague endemic areas to take precautions to protect themselves and their pets,” said Dr. Paul Smith, Manager of the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department Urban Biology Division. “Dogs and cats should be kept on year-round flea treatment, and people should use insect repellent any time they participate in activities outdoors.”

Symptoms of plague in people usually develop two to eight days after exposure. Typical symptoms include sudden fever, chills, headaches, and swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin areas. As stated earlier, no detectable swollen lymph node is found in cases of septicemic plague.

In addition to the three human cases, there have been seven cases of plague this year in dogs and cats, including pets from Bernalillo, Santa Fe, and Torrance counties.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today

Follow @bactiman63