Kenny Vigil
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Plague Case in Rio Arriba County Woman

July 21, 2014 - Zoonotic Disease - Disease

The New Mexico Department of Health is reporting a case of plague in a 43-year-old woman from Rio Arriba County who is currently hospitalized. Confirmatory testing was conducted at the Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division. The first plague case in New Mexico in 2014 was reported in April in a 57-year-old man from Torrance County who is still recovering. An environmental investigation will take place at the woman’s home to look for ongoing risk to others in the surrounding area.

“Plague activity in New Mexico is usually highest during the summer months, so it is especially important now to take precautions to avoid rodents and their fleas which can expose you to plague,” said Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward, MPH. “This person was most likely exposed to plague when her dogs brought infected fleas back into the home.”

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.

“We are seeing die offs of rabbits, squirrels, pack rats and various rodents in several areas of New Mexico from both plague and tularemia,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health. “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.”

To prevent plague, the Department of Health recommends:

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 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. Physicians who suspect plague should promptly report to the New Mexico Department of Health.

There were four human plague cases in 2013 with one fatality, one human plague case in 2012, two human cases of plague in 2011, no cases in 2010, and six human cases of plague in 2009, one of them fatal.

For more information, including fact sheets in English and Spanish, go to the Plague section of our website.


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