New Mexico health officials today reported a case of human plague in a 16-year-old boy from Rio Arriba County. The teen is currently hospitalized for his illness.

Oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis/CDC

This is the first human case of plague in New Mexico and in the United States this year.

“We will conduct an environmental investigation at the teen’s home to look for ongoing risk and to ensure the health of the immediate family and neighbors,” said Department of Health Secretary Designate Lynn Gallagher. “Staff will go 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. 

“Late spring and summer are when we see most cases of plague, though they 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 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.”

Related: Congo, Madagascar top countries reporting most plague 2000-2009, US reports 57 cases

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 symptoms in cats and dogs are fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. There may be a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment can greatly reduce the risk of death. Physicians who suspect a patient may have plague should promptly report it to the Department of Health.

LISTEN: A 2013 interview with Dr. Paul Ettestad, State Public Health Veterinarian with the New Mexico Department of Health about plague

In New Mexico, there were 4 human plague cases in 2015 with one death.