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New York City Seal Press Release

New York City Department of Health
and Mental Hygiene

Office of Communications
CONTACT: Sandra Mullin
Wednesday, November 6, 2002
(212) 788-5290
(877) 640-1347


This Form Of Plague Is Not Spread From Person-To-Person

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has presumptively diagnosed bubonic plague in a 53-year-old male resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico who was visiting New York City. In addition, the patient's 47-year-old wife has similar symptoms and laboratory test results are pending. He is currently hospitalized in critical condition; she is in stable condition. The couple arrived in New York City from New Mexico on November 1, and went to the hospital after two days of flu-like symptoms, high fevers and swollen lymph nodes. The usual incubation period for plague is between two to seven days. As these patients became ill within 48 hours of their arrival in New York City, their exposure occurred in New Mexico. These individuals live in a plague-endemic area and all epidemiologic evidence indicates that the source of their infection is rodents and rodent fleas in the vicinity of their home in which plague was confirmed earlier this summer. Bubonic plague is not spread from person-to-person. An investigation of the patients' home is being conducted by the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Bubonic plague is a bacterial disease of rodents transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas. Pneumonic plague, a more serious form of the disease occurs when plague bacteria are inhaled after direct contact with infected animals including rodents, wildlife and pets. Most people become ill two to seven days after being infected with the plague bacteria. Plague symptoms in humans include fever; painful swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck areas; chills; and sometimes headache, vomiting, and diarrhea. With prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate in people can be greatly reduced.

CDC reports that there are 10-15 cases of plague per year, mostly rural areas in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, California, Oregon and Nevada. The illness occurs in areas where infection of wild animals is common, including parts of the American Southwest. Wild rodents, especially ground squirrels and prairie dogs, are the natural reservoir for the plague bacterium. Rats, other wild rodents, cats and dogs can become infected with plague, and the disease is occasionally transmitted to people by these animals or their infected fleas. Most patients with plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics, particularly if treated in the early stages of the disease. If detected in its early stages, plague is treatable with antibiotics. Plague is treatable by a 10-day course of antibiotics. However, approximately 10% of patients who become ill from plague die.

The hospital reported the case to the DOHMH on Tuesday, November 5. Within hours of this report, specimens were sent to DOHMH's Public Health Laboratories and presumptive positive results were received this evening. This case underscores the critical link between hospitals and physicians with the DOHMH to control and prevent diseases in New York City. The DOHMH is working closely with CDC, NMDOH and the New York State Department of Health in this investigation.