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At Least Two New Mexicans Treated for Potentially Deadly Plague

PHOTO: The potentially deadly plague, passed to humans and animals from fleas on rodents, has infected at least two people and several animals in New Mexico in recent weeks. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
PHOTO: The potentially deadly plague, passed to humans and animals from fleas on rodents, has infected at least two people and several animals in New Mexico in recent weeks. Photo courtesy of Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
July 29, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. - At least two people in New Mexico are being treated for the potentially deadly disease known as the plague.

While those infected are expected to survive, Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian with the State Department of Health, says the plague has also infected several animals in Bernalillo, Torrance, and Santa Fe counties.

"We've had several dogs and cats come up positive," says Ettestad. "The nature park in Edgewood had a couple of its animals on exhibit affected, its mountain lion and its coati. Unfortunately they succumbed to the plague."

A coati is a small, raccoon-like animal.

Ettestad says the plague is a bacterial disease typically passed to humans and animals from the bites of infected fleas. He notes an ongoing rodent die-off in the East Mountain area is adding to the problem. People can catch the disease from their dogs and cats which come in contact with dead prairie dogs and other animals infected with the plague-carrying fleas.

Ettestad emphasizes the importance of keeping children and pets far away from areas near a rodent die-off.

"Work with your veterinarian to use a flea control product," advises Ettestad. "Try to reduce rodent habitat right around your home or workplace. Remove any brush or rock piles or junk or cluttered firewood. Don't leave your dog food out at night or anything that will attract rodents closer to your home."

Symptoms of plague in humans include fever, chills, headache and weakness. In most cases, there is a painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit or neck areas. Ettestad says it can be treated with antibiotics, but infected people and animals require prompt medical attention to avoid serious complications or even death.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM