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Human Case Of Bubonic Plague Reported in New Mexico

Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Wayson stain of bubonic plague, or Yersinia pestis. The bacteria has a characteristic "safety pin" appearance.

Our neighbors to the west have recorded the country's first human case this year of the dreaded bubonic plague. A 58-year-old man in the area of Santa Fe, New Mexico is recovering in hospital, reports Albuquerque CBS affiliate KRQE.

"Whenever there is a human case of plague, the [New Mexico] Department of Health takes several steps to ensure the safety of the immediate family, neighbors, and health care providers," [New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Catherine]Torres said in a statement released by her office. "We inform neighbors door-to-door about plague found in the area and educate them on reducing their risk.

It is not unusual to find bubonic plague in the West Texas rodent population, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Department.

It’s spread to people by direct contact with infected animals such as prairie dogs, squirrels, cats, rats and mice. The odds of this happening are low, but take care anyway. Plague fully deserves its dread-disease status and can be fatal if not treated promptly.

You can say that again. Plague epidemics agonized humans for centuries. The 14th Century outbreak in Europe was particularly notorious for wiping out up to half the population.

Thankfully, modern medicine has brought the mortality rate of plague in the United States down to about 1 in 7. Between five and 15 Americans die from plague in an average year.

You may recall in 2003, several vials containing bubonic plague went missing from Texas Tech University. They were discovered an hour later. Comedian Jon Stewart joked about it at the time on The Daily Show.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.