A New Mexico man has died from the bubonic plague. Is this America’s Black Death?

A New Mexico man has died from the bubonic plague. Is this America’s Black Death?

One month after a man in Oregon contracted the bubonic plague from his sick cat, a different man has died from the disease after falling ill in New Mexico.

Around three years after New Mexico’s last case of the plague, officials confirmed in early March that a man from Lincoln County passed away after being hospitalised for the disease.

It is not clear how the individual contracted the plague – though the state health agency is urging residents to take care to avoid exposure to rodents.

Health officials said that the last human death in the state from the plague happened in 2020, when three other human cases were also identified there. After that, the last known human case in the state was in 2021.

The death in New Mexico comes after Oregon confirmed in February that it had recorded its first case of bubonic plague in nearly eight years. State health officials believe a resident picked up the plague from his very sick pet cat.

Thankfully, in that case, there were no fatalities; the resident’s illness was caught in its early stages, and the individual received treatment. State health officials also treated those close to the infected resident.

When you think about the plague, what will most likely spring to mind will be the catastrophic Black Death that killed millions in Europe in the 1300s.

The disease swept England, arriving in June 1348, reaching London by the autumn and covering the whole country by the summer of 1349.

That epidemic is estimated to have killed between 40 to 60 per cent of the population of England and more than one-third of Europe’s population.

However, any fears stemming from recent plague reports that make you think we are about to witness a resurgence of this epidemic, thanks to modern medicine, the plague is not as population-devastating as it has been in the past.

Medicine has come a long way since the 1300s, and modern antibiotics are very effective at fighting illness, so long as they catch it before it progresses into advanced stages.

Between 1970 and 2020, there were nearly 500 cases of human plague reported in the US – about seven cases on average each year, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

In fact, plague crops up somewhere in the country pretty much every year.

In the US, the bubonic plague turns up most frequently in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon and Nevada in varying regions. Worldwide, Africa typically has the highest number of plague cases each year, according to the CDC.

Reports of deaths also remain very low in the United States. Between 2000 and 2020 there were only 14 deaths confirmed by the CDC.

In 2021, seven counties in Colorado were warned to be on guard against the plague after a 10-year-old girl died from the disease.

The girl who died reportedly raised hogs, according to a report byThe Durango Herald at the time. Health authorities collected fleas from the animals, believing that they could have hopped from the hogs to the girl and caused the infection.

Around the same time the girl died, an entire prairie dog colony disappeared, leading health officials to believe that the plague may have swept through the population and then travelled by fleas to infect other animals.

Prairie dogs are so susceptible to the plague that they serve as a sort of canary in a coal mine for Colorado health officials. Anytime a colony goes silent, they begin testing for bubonic plague.

There are many illnesses in the United States and across the world that will result in varying numbers of reported deaths, but advances in medicine allow scientists and doctors to try and prevent fatalities from rising.

While we have antibiotics to thank, health authorities remind residents how to prevent people from contracting the disease every time a new case crops up.

The plague can be transmitted to humans by flea bites or direct contact with infected animals. It is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.

In humans, symptoms will appear around two to eight days after exposure.

Its symptoms are typically similar to illnesses like the flu or Covid-19, with infected individuals developing coughs, fevers, and swollen lymph nodes.

Most of the plague carriers are rodents and other smaller woodland mammals. Squirrels, chipmunks, rats, cats and prairie dogs all can carry the disease. Cats are “highly susceptible” to infection, according to Oregon state health officials, because they hunt and eat rodents.

State health authorities have suggested a variety of ways people can prevent their exposure to rodents.

The New Mexico Health Department is recommending that residents clean up places they might live, such as woodpiles, and discouraging pets from roaming and hunting.

Authorities have also advised people to take their pets to a vet immediately if they become sick after contact with rodents. If the pet owner feels unexplainably ill with fever symptoms, they should also consult a doctor.

The New Mexico health department said that swift diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment can significantly reduce the death rate among both humans and pets.