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Home News Second Human Plague Case Confirmed in Bernalillo County
Kenny Vigil
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Second Human Plague Case Confirmed in Bernalillo County

September 3, 2015 - Zoonotic Diseases - Disease

Third confirmed case of plague in New Mexico in 2015

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 59-year-old woman from Bernalillo County. The case was confirmed at the Department of Health’s Scientific Laboratory Division.  The woman is recovering. This is the third human case of plague in New Mexico this year and the second in Bernalillo County.  The other cases in the state occurred in a 52-year-old woman from Santa Fe County, who died from the illness and in a 65-year-old man from Bernalillo County who recovered.

“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.”

Septicemic plague accounts for approximately 20-25 percent of New Mexico cases. Septicemic plague has no specific features or detectable swollen lymph node (bubo) by which it can be distinguished from other infectious diseases, although abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea are common.

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. 

Reduce the risk of Plague:

  • Use insect repellent on exposed skin and clothing when you go outdoors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 for use on skin, and permethrin for use on clothing. Always follow label directions when using insect repellents.
  • 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.
  • Bernalillo County citizens living east of Tramway Blvd. should report sick or dead rodents and rabbits to 311. Rodents or rabbits with obvious signs of injury (e.g., gunshot wounds, bite wounds) do not need to be reported.

For more information about plague and tularemia visit the Urban Biology page and the Plague section of our website.


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