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Last Updated

08 Nov 2002

Source: Newsday, November 8, 2002.

Plague Victim Remains Critical

Wife improves; her test results awaited

By Margaret Ramirez, STAFF WRITER

A New Mexico man diagnosed with the city's first case of bubonic plague in a century remained in critical condition yesterday, while his wife's condition improved markedly, hospital officials said.

The man, 53, and his wife, 47, who were visiting Manhattan from Santa Fe, showed up at Beth Israel Medical Center's emergency room Tuesday night with fever and swollen lymph nodes. Wednesday night, health officials said preliminary tests on the man came back positive for bubonic plague, likely contracted at his rural New Mexico home.

Although health officials are still awaiting tests on his wife, a hospital spokesman said yesterday she was showing significant improvement.

"She is responding to antibiotic treatment and has been taken [out of] isolation," said Michael Quane, spokesman for Beth Israel. "Unfortunately, her husband remains the same."

Bubonic plague is a bacterial disease of rodents that is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas. For many people, the disease's very name brings to mind horrific images of Europe's 14th-century bout with the plague, which killed millions and became known as the "Black Death." The plague cannot be transmitted from person to person, and city officials said New Yorkers have nothing to fear from this case.

Bubonic plague's name comes from the Greek word for groin - bubo - because swelling is most pronounced in the groin area. Typically, the U.S. sees 10 to 15 cases of bubonic plague annually, predominantly in rural areas of New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona where there are large populations of rodents.

In Santa Fe, health officials yesterday were setting rodent traps around the couple's home to determine the extent of the disease and potential risks to people in the area.

Paul Ettestad, public-health veterinarian for the New Mexico Department of Health, said blood samples and fleas would be taken from the animals and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be tested for bubonic plague. Ettestad said the couple also owns two dogs, who may have brought infected fleas inside the home. Blood samples and fleas will also be collected from the dogs, said Ettestad. The plague cannot be communicated from dogs to humans, so there is no reason for the dogs to be quarantined.

"Dogs are fairly resistant to this type of disease. You wouldn't get the plague from a dog," he said. "But it is possible that when the dogs came in the house, they may have brought an infected flea that came in contact with the couple."