Man dies from Bubonic plague in New Mexico

This is the first death from the plague in New Mexico since 2020

Amelia Neath
Tuesday 12 March 2024 16:37 GMT
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A man has died in New Mexico from the bubonic plague – marking the first human death from the disease in the state since 2020.

The New Mexico Department of Health announced on Friday that the Lincoln County man, who has not been named, was first hospitalised after contracting the disease. He then died in hospital.

“We extend our deepest sympathy to the family of the Lincoln County man who succumbed to plague,” said state public health veterinarian Erin Phipps.

“This tragic incident serves as a clear reminder of the threat posed by this ancient disease and emphasises the need for heightened community awareness and proactive measures to prevent its spread,” she added.

It is not clear exactly how the man contracted the disease.

While the last human plague death in the state happened in 2020, the most recent case occurred in Torrance County in 2021, the agency said.

In 2020, there were four human plague cases in New Mexico: one in Santa Fe County, two in Torrance County, and the fatal case in Rio Arriba County.

The plague is a bacterial disease that spreads to humans through an infected flea bite. It can also be spread by direct contact with infected animals, such as rodents, pets and wildlife.

Pets such as dogs and cats that roam freely and then come back into the home can bring in infected fleas from dead rodents, which can then put household members at risk.

The Department of Health said in its statement that it would be contacting residents in the area and performing an environmental assessment to determine whether there is any ongoing risk to the public.

State health authorities said that the human symptoms of the plague include a 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, they added.

Symptoms in cats and dogs can also be identified, such as fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw.

The health department said that swift diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment can greatly reduce the death rate among both humans and pets.

The New Mexican health authorities also recommend residents avoid sick or dead rodents and rabbits and their nests and burrows and prevent pets from roaming and hunting. Food and water for pets should also not be left where wildlife can get to it.

The agency also recommends that pet owners talk to a vet about using an appropriate flea-control product, as not all products are safe for cats, dogs or children.

If pets become sick, they should be promptly examined by a vet, while residents should see a doctor if they have any unexplained illnesses involving a sudden and severe fever.

The health department adds that people should clean up places such as woodpiles where rodents may live, and put hay, wood, and compost piles as far away from their homes as possible.

The death comes a month after an Oregon resident is thought to have caught the bubonic plague from their cat.

Deschutes County Health Services announced in February that a local resident had the plague, saying it was likely that their “symptomatic pet cat” infected the individual.

The human case was identified and treated in the earlier stages of the disease, meaning it posed little risk to the community, they said.

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