Health officials confirmed that Santa Fe County in New Mexico has two additional cases of the human plague. This year's first confirmed case of the plague in New Mexico was also recorded this month and involved a 63-year-old man.
On June 26, the New Mexico Department of Health revealed that a 52-year-old woman and a 62-year-old woman also recently contracted the disease. The three patients, who are residents of Santa Fe County, were hospitalized, but there are no fatalities.
Health officials now conduct investigations around the homes of the patients to make sure that there is no additional risk to the people who live nearby.
How The Plague Is Transmitted
The disease is typically transmitted to humans when they are bitten by infected fleas. The disease can also be contracted through handling of rabbits and rodents such a prairie dogs and squirrels that are infected by the causative pathogen, the Yersinia pestis bacteria. Inhaling droplets from the cough of an infected person or mammal, particularly sick cats, can also lead to the plague.
Symptoms To Watch Out For
The plague is considered a serious illness, but health officials said that it can be treated if the symptoms are recognized at an early time.
The symptoms of human plague include sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, and weakness. In most cases, patients suffer from a painful swelling of the lymph node in the armpit, groin, or neck areas.
In pets such as cats and dogs, the symptoms of the plague include fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Swelling in the lymph node under the jaw can also occur.
The plague can be treated with the appropriate antibiotics with prompt diagnosis. Fatality rates are reduced with early treatment.
"Plague is infamous for killing millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague. Without prompt treatment, the disease can cause serious illness or death," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
Avoiding The Plague
To avoid the plague, health experts urge the public to observe several precautions, which include cleaning up areas in the home where rodents may live such as brush piles, woodpiles, and abandoned vehicles; using flea control product on pets; placing hay, wood, and compost piles as far away from the home as possible; and not leaving the food and water of the pets in areas where mice can access.
Doctors also recommend promptly taking sick animals to the veterinarian and to see a doctor about any unexplained illness that involve sudden and high fever. Health experts also provided suggestions on how to deal with pets that may potentially bring home the illness.
"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 Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health. "Keeping your pets at home or on a leash and using an appropriate flea control product is important to protect you and your family."