The New Mexico Department of Health and the Department of Game and Fish report continuing instances of plague in the East Mountain area, which includes parts of Bernalillo, Torrance, and Santa Fe counties. Two animals, a mountain lion and a small raccoon-like mammal called a coati, from the Wildlife West Nature Park in Edgewood recently died from complications due to plague. The infected animals both died within the last few weeks.
The two departments have been actively working with Wildlife West Nature Park in an effort reduce the presence of plague to minimize the possibility of people or animals being exposed.
“After a detailed inspection, officials are overseeing the park’s efforts to decrease wild rodent population in the park, dust rodent burrows with insecticides to kill fleas, post signs to warn people to stay on designated
trails and watch for any rodent die-offs that may be due to plague,” said Dr. Kerry Mower, wildlife biologist with the Department of Game and Fish.
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’ve been cooperating with the Department of Health and the Department of Game and Fish putting all of their recommendations into place so our visitors will be safe,” said Roger Alink, Director of the Wildlife West Nature Park.
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.
“It is very important to have children and pets avoid rodents and their burrows, especially if the rodents appear sick,” 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. Also, if you have recently handled a rodent or been bitten by their fleas and you develop a high fever and maybe also a painful swollen lymph node, you should seek medical attention.”
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 can be treated with antibiotics, but infected people and animals must be treated promptly to avoid serious complications or death. Physicians who suspect someone might be infected with plague should promptly call the New Mexico Department of Health at 505-827-0006.
“People hunting furbearers or small animals such as cottontail rabbits or squirrels can reduce their risk of exposure to disease by wearing gloves when handling animals. Wash hands and arms with soap and water after field dressing game,” said Dr. Mower.
Protect yourself and your pets:
• Reduce rodent habitat around your home, work place and recreational areas. Remove brush, rock piles, junk, cluttered firewood and possible rodent food supplies, such as pet and wild animal food. Make your home and outbuildings rodent-proof.
• If you’re a hunter, wear gloves if you handle or skin potentially infected animals to prevent contact between your skin and the plague bacteria..
• Use repellent if you think you could be exposed to rodent fleas during activities such as camping, hiking or working outdoors. Products containing DEET can be applied to the skin as well as clothing and products containing permethrin can be applied to clothing (always follow instructions on the label).
• Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on your pets as not all products are safe for cats, dogs, or your children.
• Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free in endemic areas to sleep on your bed.
There have been two human cases of plague this year in New Mexico. Both people are still recovering. There were four human cases of plague in 2013 with one fatality, one case in 2012, two cases 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 Department of Health’s website at: http://archive.nmhealth.org/erd/healthdata/plague.shtml