New Mexico health officials report human plague death

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Department of Health on Friday reported the state’s first human plague death since 2020.

Officials said a Lincoln County man died after he was hospitalized with the plague. He was the first person in New Mexico with the plague since 2021.

“We extend our deepest sympathy to the family of the Lincoln County man who succumbed to the plague,” said Erin Phipps, DVM, MPH, the state public health veterinarian. “This tragic incident serves as a clear reminder of the threat posed by this ancient disease. It emphasizes the need for heightened community awareness and proactive measures to prevent its spread.”  

In 2021, a Torrance County resident came down with the plague. The year before, four people came down with it – one in Santa Fe County, two in Torrance County and one Rio Arriba County person who later died.

CDC data shows that from 1970-2020, 51% of the plague cases in the U.S. were in New Mexico.

The plague is a bacterial disease of rodents. It is often spread to humans through infected fleas biting people. It can also spread if someone directly contacts infected animals, including rodents, wildlife and pets.

Often, roaming dogs and cats can carry infected fleas from dead rodents. That is what puts humans at risk, according to NMDOH.

NMDOH staff is conducting outreach to area residents. They will also conduct an environmental assessment in the community to look for ongoing risks.

Officials say plague symptoms in humans include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache and weakness. Often, painful swelling occurs in the lymph node in the groin, armpit or neck areas.

Pets with the plague can experience fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. They may also have a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw.

With prompt diagnosis and antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced.


  • Avoid sick or dead rodents and rabbits. Also avoid their nests and burrows
  • Prevent pets from roaming and hunting
  • Talk to your veterinarian about using an appropriate flea control product on your pets. Not all products are safe for cats, dogs or your children
  • Have a veterinarian promptly examine sick pets
  • See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving sudden and severe fever
  • Clean up areas near your home where rodents could live. That includes woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned vehicles
  • Put hay, wood and compost piles as far away from your home as possible
  • Don’t leave your pet’s food and water where rodents and wildlife can get to it

Physicians who suspect plague should promptly report to NMDOH by calling (505) 827-0006.