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Home News Department of Health Reports Animal Plague and Tularemia Cases
Kenny Vigil
505-841-5871 Office
505-470-2290 Mobile

Department of Health Reports Animal Plague and Tularemia Cases

May 15, 2015 - Zoonotic Diseases - Alert

The New Mexico Department of Health is reporting 4 cases of plague and 10 cases of tularemia in animals in New Mexico since the beginning of the year. Cases include one cat from Bernalillo County and one dog, a rabbit and a mouse from Santa Fe County, all with plague. Tularemia cases include 1 cat from Los Alamos County, 1 dog from Taos County, 3 dogs and a rabbit from Santa Fe County, and 3 dogs and 1 rabbit from Bernalillo County. Confirmatory testing was conducted at the Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division.

“Plague and tularemia occur almost every year in New Mexico, so it is important to take precautions to avoid rodents and rabbits, and their fleas and ticks which can expose you to these diseases,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “People can be exposed to plague and tularemia when pets bring infected fleas or ticks back into the home.”

Both plague and tularemia are bacterial diseases of rodents and rabbits. Plague is generally transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas while tularemia can be transmitted to people by the bite of infected ticks or deer flies. Both diseases can also be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, rabbits, other wildlife and pets.

“We are seeing high populations of rodents and rabbits in many areas of New Mexico this spring,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health. “Both tularemia and plague can circulate in these rodent populations causing them to become sick and die. Dogs and cats can be infected with plague and tularemia through hunting rodents and rabbits or by exposure to their fleas or ticks.”

To prevent plague and tularemia, the Department of Health recommends:

  • Keep your pets from roaming and hunting.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea and tick 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.
  • Don’t allow children or others to handle sick or dead wildlife.
  • 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.
  • Avoid mowing over dead animals when cutting the grass, etc. as this can potentially aerosolize the bacteria. 

Symptoms of plague and tularemia in humans include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, and weakness. In most cases of plague there is a painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit or neck areas. With tularemia a skin ulcer may appear at the site where the bite occurred. The ulcer is accompanied by swelling of regional lymph glands, usually in the armpit or groin.

Plague and tularemia signs in cats and dogs are fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. There may be a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw.

With prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced. Physicians who suspect plague or tularemia should promptly report it to the Department of Health.

In New Mexico in 2014 there were 17 confirmed cases of plague in dogs and cats. Two humans contracted plague in New Mexico in 2014; one of these is thought to have contracted the disease from his cat. Both patients recovered from the illness. There were 4 human plague cases in 2013 with one fatality.

Five human cases of tularemia were lab confirmed in New Mexico in 2014. All were hospitalized.

For more information, including fact sheets in English and Spanish, go to the Plague section of our website.

Media Contact

We would be happy to provide additional information about this press release. Simply contact Kenny Vigil at 505-841-5871 (Office) or 505-470-2290 (Mobile) with your questions.

Versión en Español

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El Departamento de Salud Informa sobre Casos de Peste y Tularemia en Animales