The New Mexico Department of Health reported two recent confirmed plague cases in 52-year-old and 62-year-old females from Santa Fe County.

With the addition of these cases, there have been three human plague cases in Santa Fe County in 2017. All three cases required hospitalization. There have been no deaths from plague in 2017.

While privacy laws prevent the health department from naming precise locations of human plague cases, it does track the location of cases in animals.

So far this year, there have been 16 cases of plague in domestic animals, with 11 of those in Santa Fe, Sandoval, Torrance and Bernalillo County. Most of the cases in Santa Fe County are in the southern part of the county. The health department’s website also recorded two cases of plague in wild mammals in Bernalillo County.

The health department conducted environmental investigations around the homes of the patients to look for ongoing risk and to ensure the safety of the immediate family and neighbors, according to a press release.

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. Plague can be present in fleas that infest wild rodents in many areas in New Mexico.

“Pets that are allowed to roam and hunt can bring infected fleas from dead rodents back into the home, putting you and your children at risk,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health. “Keeping your pets at home or on a leash and using an appropriate flea control product is important to protect you and your family.”

To prevent plague, the Department of Health also recommends:

  • 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.
  • Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live, such as woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned vehicles.
  • Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.
  • See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and high 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.

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 nodes 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.

With prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced.

In New Mexico, there were four human plague cases in 2016 in Bernalillo, Mora and Rio Arriba counties with no fatalities; and four human plague cases in 2015 in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties with one fatality.

For more information on plague, including fact sheets in English and Spanish, visit nmhealth.org.

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]