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Home News Department of Health reports death of man from plague
David Morgan
575-528-5197 Office
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Department of Health reports death of man from plague

March 8, 2024 - Zoonotic Diseases - Information

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) announces a Lincoln County man has died of plague after being hospitalized for the disease. The case is the first human case of plague in New Mexico since 2021 and the first death since 2020.   

“We extend our deepest sympathy to the family of the Lincoln County man who succumbed to plague,” said State Public Health Veterinarian Erin Phipps, DVM, MPH. “This tragic incident serves as a clear reminder of the threat posed by this ancient disease and emphasizes the need for heightened community awareness and proactive measures to prevent its spread.”  

Plague is a bacterial disease of rodents and is generally spread to humans through the bites of infected fleas. It can also spread by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, wildlife and pets. 

Dogs and cats that are allowed to roam and hunt can bring infected fleas from dead rodents back into the home, putting household members at risk. 

NMDOH staff is conducting outreach to area residents. An environmental assessment will also be conducted in the community to look for ongoing risk. 

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 include fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. There may be a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw.  

To prevent plague, the NMDOH recommends that you: 

  • Avoid sick or dead rodents and rabbits, and their nests and burrows. 
  • Prevent pets from roaming and hunting.  
  • Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on your pets as not all products are safe for cats, dogs or your children.  
  • Have sick pets examined promptly by a veterinarian. 
  • See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever. 
  • Clean up areas near the home where rodents could live, such as woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned vehicles.  
  • Put hay, wood, and compost piles as far as possible from your home. 
  • Don’t leave your pet’s food and water where rodents and wildlife can get to it. 

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

The last human plague case in the state was a Torrance County resident in 2021. In 2020, there were four human plague cases: one in Santa Fe County, two in Torrance County and one fatal case in Rio Arriba County. 

For more information, including fact sheets in English and Spanish, go to the Department of Health’s website at:

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