Bubonic Plague Dogs Cause 'Black Death' Scare in New Mexico

Monday, 24 Jun 2013 10:17 AM

By Megan Anderle

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New Mexico officials are warning residents in the East Mountains and El Dorado counties of the bubonic plague, after two dogs reportedly came down with the Black Death, according to Outside magazine.

Residents are advised to keep their dogs away from rodents – including rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels -- as they could be carrying Black Death-laden fleas. Officials also recommend removing brush and clutter from around the home, which are hiding places for such animals.

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“It is the plague,” Mark Dimenna of the Environmental Health Department told Outside magazine. “It is the bubonic plague, the Black Death. It’s the same organism that it always has been.”

Fortunately, human cases of plague are rare. Humans can be infected from direct contact with infected tissues or fluids while handling an animal that is sick or dead from plague. The disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms of the bubonic plague for humans include fever, headache, chills, and weakness, and swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes, according to the CDC.

Symptoms usually show up within two weeks of exposure to an infected animal or flea, county health officials told The Sacramento Bee.

Dr. Paul Smith, of the EHD, warned dog owners to be on the lookout for symptoms for their dogs: fever, lethargy, and behavior that is "not normal." Cats can also be affected.

There have been only 999 confirmed or probable cases in the U.S. since 1900, but the Black Death is still potentially fatal. Most of the cases have been in the New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado area and in Nevada, Oregon and California.

"Plague is naturally present in many parts of California, including higher elevation of El Dorado County, so we all need to be cautious around animals that can carry it," Dr. Alicia Paris-Pombo, the county's public health officer told The Sacramento Bee.

The Black Death originated in China in 1334, when it killed 60 percent of Europe's population, according to the CDC. It is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria.

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