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Home News Department of Health Reports Human Plague Case in Torrance County
David Morgan
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Department of Health Reports Human Plague Case in Torrance County

October 4, 2019 - Zoonotic Diseases - Disease

Department of Health Reports Human Plague Case in Torrance County

First Human Case in New Mexico for 2019

The New Mexico Department of Health’s (NMDOH) Scientific Laboratory Division has confirmed a case of plague in a 72-year-old man from Torrance County, the first human case of plague in New Mexico this year.

Plague is a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis which is generally transmitted to humans from the bites of infected fleas that live among rodents and rabbits. Plague can also be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals. Pet dogs and cats can become infected with plague when they eat an infected rodent or when they get bit by an infected flea.

NMDOH staff have gone door-to-door in the affected area to inform neighbors about plague and provided them with education to reduce their risks. 

“No matter where you call home in New Mexico, you can reduce the risk of plague by avoiding contact with rodents or their fleas, or outdoor pets by providing appropriate flea prevention for pets year-round,” said Secretary of Health Kathy Kunkel. 

Symptoms of plague in humans include sudden onset of a fever, chills, headache, and weakness usually within one to seven days of becoming infected. There may be a painful swelling of the lymph node in the neck, armpit or groin areas referred to as bubonic plague. The infection can also spread to the blood, causing septicemic plague, or to the lungs, causing pneumonic plague.

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 all cases to the New Mexico Department of Health.

To prevent plague, the Department of Health recommends that residents:

  • Avoid sick or dead rodents and rabbits, and their nests and burrows.
  • Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live, such as woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned or un-used vehicles.
  • See a healthcare provider about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever. Inform your healthcare provider about any flea bites, contact with rodents, or burrows during the previous couple of weeks.
  • Wear protective clothing to prevent flea bites while working outside.  (say flea, not insects as that can be misleading, unless fleas aren’t the only insects?)
  • Provide safe and effective flea control for pets as recommended by a veterinarian.
  • Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.

This is the first human plague case in New Mexico since 2017, a year where there was a total of four human cases. There has been one animal plague case in a dog in Quay County in 2019 (see Department of Health Reports Plague Case in Quay County). There were three cases of animal plague in dogs in 2018, and 28 animal plague cases in 2017 in New Mexico.

For more information about plague, including fact sheets in English and Spanish, go to the Department of Health’s Plague webpage.


Media Contact

We would be happy to provide additional information about this press release. Simply contact David Morgan at 575-528-5197 (Office) or 575-649-0754 (Mobile) with your questions.


Versión en Español

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Departamento de Salud Reporta Caso de Plaga Humana en el Condado de Torrance