Man dies of plague in New Mexico: health officials

New Mexico's first human fatality since 2020 is a plague-related death, health officials say.

The New Mexico Department of Health said the man, who lived in Lincoln County, located in the southeastern part of the state, had been hospitalized before his death. Press release Last week.

No other information about him was available, including his name, age or race/ethnicity.

Plague is treatable with commonly available antibiotics and if the patient seeks medical help early, the chances of a full recovery are high. CDC.

NMDOH said staff will reach out to residents in the area and conduct an environmental assessment in the community to determine risk.

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

Although the plague is often associated with killing millions of Europeans in the Middle Ages, it was not an exterminated disease, state public health veterinarian Dr. Erin Phipps told ABC News.

“It's the same bacteria that caused the Black Death that wiped out Europeans, and it's actually still there. It's still spreading today,” he said.

Plague is a disease caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. It occurs naturally in the western United States, particularly in rural and semi-rural areas of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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It commonly affects wild rodents including wood mice, rock squirrels, ground squirrels, rats, prairie dogs and chipmunks. Humans can acquire the disease through the bite of a rodent carrying the bacterium or through direct contact with an animal infected with plague, which includes pets.

Phipps said there are three types of plague: bubonic plague, which is associated with enlarged lymph nodes called bubos; septicemic plague, which occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream; and pneumonic plague, when the infection enters the lungs.

Other symptoms usually include headache, fever, chills and weakness.

“Bubonic plague consists of enlarged lymph nodes, otherwise symptoms are present [of plague] Like many other diseases,” Phipps said. “That's some of the challenges. Because it's rare, it's not always on people's radar.”

That's why getting a diagnosis from a trained doctor is so important, he said.

Before antibiotics, according to Phipps, two-thirds of people infected with the plague died from the disease. Currently, about 10% of people die from plague, he said.

To reduce the risk of plague, the NMDOH recommends cleaning areas where rodents live near the home, preventing pets from roaming and hunting, keeping pet food away from attracting rodents, and keeping hay and wood away from the home as much as possible.

Additionally, get a sick pet checked out by a veterinarian right away, and talk to your doctor if you have unexplained signs of illness.

“People don't realize that [plague] This is not a disease of the past,” Phipps said. “Every year we get cases in the western United States. We believe that by increasing awareness, we can encourage early diagnosis and compliance.”

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He added: “It's not something to worry too much about, but by making sure it's on the radar, it will help … people take action if they live in wild areas or near wild rodents, especially with indoor and outdoor pets.”

News of the New Mexico man's death comes a month after an Oregon resident contracted plague, possibly from their cat. Health authorities In the state.

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