Health officials with the New Mexico Department of Health announced last week that they had confirmed 2 new (human) cases of plague, bringing the total count so far this year to 3.
Plague is a bacterial infection spread most often through flea bites but it can also be contracted through direct contact with animals that are infected–and that includes household pets. “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, in the Department’s most recent update. Ettestad is public health veterinarian for the Department.
No one is identifying the patients by name, of course, but we do know that all 3 cases were in Santa Fe County. None of the victims has died but all 3 spent time in the hospital. Officials say they are working at the victims’ homes to protect any other family members and neighbors.
Back in April, the Department, along with Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department and the Bernalillo County Health Protection Section announced that a recently deceased cat and a dog had both tested positive for plague. Those cases marked the first plague cases in that part of New Mexico in several years.
Plague In Cats
Animal health experts say that cats are especially at risk for plague and the infection can spread rapidly in groups of stray or feral cats. Antibiotics can help; the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that close to 60% of untreated, infected cats will die.
Mexico’s Department of Health has recommendations for keeping your cat safer. Some of the Department’s commonsense advice includes things like:
- Get and keep all your animals on a flea control program.
- Clean up spots on your property that could serve as habitats for rodents.
- Take your pets in for a visit for any sudden, high fever.
- Don’t leave your pets’ food and water bowls accessible to rodents.
Symptoms of plague in humans include things like:
- Painful swelling in the lymph nodes in the groin, neck or armpit
- Sudden fever, chills, headache, and weakness.
In both dogs and cats symptoms can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling in the lymph node under the jaw.
Statewide last year, New Mexico confirmed 4 human cases of plague, with no one actually dying from it; in 2015, 1 of 4 people who contracted the disease ultimately succumbed.