New Mexica DoH Confirms Plague, West Nile In Animals, Mosquitoes

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The New Mexico Department of Health recommends people protect themselves against mosquito bites and from exposure to rodents while enjoying the outdoors this summer. The Department of Health’s Scientific Laboratory confirmed that mosquitoes from Las Cruces tested positive for West Nile Virus this week. The Department has also confirmed plague in six cats and three dogs in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties so far this year.

There has been one case of plague in an Eddy County man who got the disease in January from hunting rabbits. There have been no human cases of West Nile so far this year.

“We see the most cases of West Nile Virus infection, including fatalities, from July through September,” said Paul Ettestad, the Department’s public health veterinarian. “Fortunately, it is easy to protect yourself by taking precautions, such as using a repellent when you are outdoors, especially during the evening and early morning when mosquitoes are most active.”

Common West Nile symptoms are fever, nausea, headache, and muscle aches. In rare cases, West Nile Virus can cause meningitis or encephalitis. If someone has these symptoms, they should see their health care provider. People older than 50 are at most risk for serious disease from West Nile Virus.

To protect yourself from West Nile Virus infection:

· Use insect repellent on exposed skin and clothing when you go outdoors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535 for use on skin, and permethrin for use on clothing. Always follow label directions when using insect repellents.

· When weather permits, wear protective clothing such as loosefitting, longsleeved shirts, long pants and socks.

· The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for mosquitoes. Take extra care to use repellent and protective clothing, or avoid outdoor activities during these times.

· Eliminate waterholding containers where mosquitoes lay their eggs, such as old tires, and regularly change the water in birdbaths, wading pools and pet water bowls. Make sure rain barrels are tightly screened.


· Keep windows and doors closed if not screened. If you leave your house doors or windows open, make sure they have screens that fit tightly and have no holes.

· Vaccinate your horses to protect them from West Nile Virus and Western Equine Encephalitis, which is also carried by mosquitoes.

Plague, a bacterial disease of rodents, is generally transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, but can also be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, rabbits, and pets. All but one of the pet plague cases recovered with antibiotic treatment. Most of the pets were hunters who had eaten an infected rodent prior to getting ill. Ettestad recommends using a flea control product on your pets and preventing them from roaming and hunting rodents.

Symptoms of plague in humans include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, and weakness. In most cases there is a painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit or neck areas. Plague symptoms in cats and dogs are fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. There may be a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw. With prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced.

To prevent plague:

· Avoid sick or dead rodents and rabbits, and their nests and burrows.

· Treat pets regularly with an effective flea control product, and prevent them from roaming and hunting.

· Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live, such as woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned vehicles.

· Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.

· See your doctor about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever.

In 2007, New Mexico had 60 human cases of West Nile Virus with three fatalities and five cases of plague with one fatality.