The New Mexico Department of Health, the City of Albuquerque Environmental Health Department, and the Bernalillo County Health Protection Section announced today a confirmed case of plague in a 77-year-old man from Bernalillo County. The case was confirmed at the Department of Health’s Scientific Laboratory Division.  This is the second human case of plague in New Mexico this year.  The other case in the state occurred in a 16-year-old boy from Rio Arriba County, who recovered.

Oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis/CDC

“Summertime is usually the peak for human cases of plague in New Mexico,” said Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher. “I strongly urge everyone to take precautions to avoid rodents and their fleas and to talk to their veterinarian about an appropriate flea product for their pets.”

Plague is a potentially deadly illness in people that occurs in many parts of New Mexico. It is caused by a 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.

“Sick or dead rodents without obvious signs of trauma should be avoided and reported by calling 311,” said Dr. Paul Smith, Manager of the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department Urban Biology Division. “Dogs and cats should also be kept on year-round flea treatment to prevent them from bringing potentially plague infected fleas into the house.”

Symptoms of plague in people usually develop two to eight days after exposure. Plague symptoms are sudden fever, chills, headaches, and swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin areas. In rare cases, infection may progress without swollen lymph nodes making it harder to diagnose.

In addition to the two human cases, there have been 16 cases of plague this year in dogs and cats, including pets from Bernalillo, Loa Alamos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe, Taos and Torrance counties.