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Last Updated

09 Nov 2002

Source: New York Times, November 9, 2002.

Couple Remain Hospitalized With Bubonic Plague


A man with bubonic plague who is fighting for his life in a Manhattan hospital is a former top official of the New Mexico agency responsible for investigating criminal cases of insurance fraud in that state, officials in New Mexico said yesterday.

The man, John Tull, 53, was the director of the Insurance Fraud Bureau of the New Mexico Department of Insurance until six months ago, when he left to start a financial planning business in Santa Fe with his wife, Lucinda Marker, 47.

Mr. Tull remained in critical condition yesterday in the intensive care unit of Beth Israel Medical Center. Ms. Marker, who was also infected with plague, was upgraded to good condition. The couple, whose names were first published yesterday in The Daily News, arrived in New York last week and were hospitalized on Tuesday night after several days of experiencing flulike symptoms, high fevers and swollen lymph nodes. Health experts say the couple almost certainly contracted the illness in Santa Fe, one of the few places in the country where plague has been confirmed.

According to the New Mexico Insurance Fraud Bureau's Web site, Mr. Tull supervised a staff of 10, including 3 prosecutors and 6 special agents. The Web site says Mr. Tull "has been an elected prosecutor and has been involved in criminal law and fraud matters for over 25 years."

Friends in New Mexico waited anxiously for condition updates and held prayer vigils for Mr. Tull and Ms. Marker, a couple they described as devoted to each other. Ms. Marker acts in and directs plays in community theater in Santa Fe, and Mr. Tull volunteers as a search-and-rescue worker. "Everybody's really pulling for them," said Thomas R. Rushton, who worked with Mr. Tull at the Insurance Fraud Bureau. "It's just unbelievable. He's such a vital person."

The New Mexico superintendent of insurance, Eric P. Serna, said, "He's a big burly guy, so I hope this burliness is good for the plague because he's certainly not an unhealthy guy."

Ms. Marker maintains an apartment on Greenwich Street in Manhattan, according to voter registration rolls. Friends and colleagues said she and her husband traveled regularly. Ms. Marker has clients in the art and theater community, they said, and the couple had hoped to combine business with a little vacation.

Officials at Beth Israel said Ms. Marker and Mr. Tull were being treated in isolation, though doctors said the chance that anyone else had been infected by either was remote. Bubonic plague can be transmitted person to person only through direct contact with a draining skin lesion.

Dr. Ronald A. Primas, 42, an internist with a subspecialty in travel medicine who saw the couple after their hotel referred them to him, said Ms. Marker and Mr. Tull believed they had the flu: they had high fevers -- 105 degrees for Mr. Tull, 103 for Ms. Marker -- body aches, mild headache, joint pain and fatigue. Mr. Tull was in shock, he said. "If she was not there," Dr. Primas said, referring to Ms. Marker, "it would've been extremely difficult to diagnose."

Dr. Primas said Ms. Marker told him that rodents that tested positive for plague had been found on the couple's property during the summer, but that she did not think that had anything to do with their illnesses. When Dr. Primas examined her, he said, he found a bubo, or an inflamed swelling of a lymph node -- a symptom of bubonic plague -- on her leg, and called the emergency room at Beth Israel. He also said the couple had to be isolated until they had chest X-rays, to determine whether they had pneumonic plague, which is much more contagious.

"Had they let it go another day or so, there may have -- not definitely -- been a different outcome," he said. "The bubo may have opened, and started draining, and it may have been infectious."

Neighbors in New Mexico said that two years ago Mr. Tull and Ms. Marker built a house on five acres of rural land about 15 miles southeast of Santa Fe.

John Gervers, a neighbor of the couple, said he talked to a doctor after learning about their condition, but he said he was not worried. "It's not like we're running around getting anxious about this," he said. "This kind of plague is not communicable from person to person."