A man in his 20s has died of bubonic plague in New Mexico, state health authorities confirmed Friday.
His death came just days after another case of plague, in humans in their 60s, was first diagnosed in the state this year.
The two men lived more than 100 miles apart, so the cases are unlikely to be related, but health officials are now investigating the home and family of the young man who died of the rare infection.
It comes after a squirrel in neighboring Colorado tested positive for the Yesinia Pestis bacteria, which causes bubonic plague, and reports of a possible outbreak in China.
A New Mexico man in his 20s is the first to die of plague in the US this year after contracting Yesinia Pestis bacteria (pictured, in red file)
Chinese officials have shut down a town and village in the Inner Mongolia region after reports of deaths from bubonic plague this year.
It is the same disease that killed about 50 million people – including about 60 percent of the European population – in the 14th century, giving it the name ‘the black death’.
Today, cases of bubonic plague are extremely rare, but still very deadly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are between 1,000 and 2,000 cases of plague every year.
According to the WHO, between 30 and 100 percent of those cases turn out to be fatal.
In the US, there are only about seven cases of plague in an average year. Only about eight to 10 percent of Americans who get plague typically die, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate.
WHAT ARE THE THREE TYPES OF PEST?
There are two main forms of pest infection, both caused by the same bacteria: Yesinia pestis.
Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague and is spread by the bite of an infected flea. The infection spreads to immune glands called lymph nodes, causing them to become swollen and painful and can develop into open sores. Human-to-human transmission of the bubonic plague is rare and is usually caught from animals.
If the plague infects the lungs – either through the progression of the bubonic form through the body or by catching the infection from an infected patient or the breath of an animal – it is called lung plague.
Pulmonary plague is considerably more deadly and can be sustained within 24 hours. Human to human spread in this way is easy and if not diagnosed and treated quickly, the condition is often fatal.
Symptoms of both forms of infection are pain in the limbs and head, fever, vomiting and weakness. Pulmonary plague also causes coughing and coughing up blood.
Septicemic blight occurs when the infection spreads to the blood. This is much rarer and can cause blood to clot around the body – it is almost always deadly.
Source: World Health Organisation
Yesinia Pestis bacteria mainly affect animals, mostly rodents.
If those rodents are bitten by fleas, the insects can then spread it to their next hosts, including other animals and humans.
People can usually carry the plague without symptoms for about two to six days if bitten by an infected flea.
What happens next depends on whether the person has bubonic plague – the kind responsible for most of the Black Death fatalities, and is characterized by very swollen, bulbous lymph nodes, often in the groin, armpit, or neck – septicemic plague or pneumonia.
The man who died in New Mexico had the septicemic form.
In that case, symptoms may develop more quickly – within one to three days – if they have inhaled infectious droplets from the coughing or sneezing of someone else who has the plague.
Most patients develop a fever and chills for the first time and may become extremely weak.
Many will experience stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting and some people will bleed from their mouth, nose or rectum. Blood can be visible on the skin.
If the infection is bad enough, it can poison the blood stream leading to septic shock and possibly gangrene that causes the limbs to turn black as the tissue dies.
The same thing can happen to organs if they become inundated with the bacteria, leading to multiple organ failure and death.
Antibiotic treatment can improve survival, but it must be started quickly for it to work. Patients deteriorate rapidly, and some die within 24 hours of their first symptoms.
Experts advise that the best thing to do about the plague is to take all possible measures to avoid getting it.
The New Mexico Department of Health warned that pets allowed to roam freely outside – especially if they tend to roam areas with wild animals – are a primary source of infection, and recommended keeping animals indoors as much as possible.
The young man’s death marks the first plague death since 2015 in New Mexico, and presumably this year in the US.
Although it is rare, fallen all over North America. mostly occur in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona.