New Mexico health authorities reported the death of a man due to bubonic plague, marking the first fatality attributed to the bacterial infection in the U.S. state since 2020 and the first human case of infection since 2021.

Plague is a rare infectious disease caused by a bacterium named Yersinia pestis. The disease gets transmitted from animals to humans through the bite of infected fleas, direct contact with infected tissues, or through inhalation of infected respiratory droplets.

"We extend our deepest sympathy to the family of the Lincoln County man who succumbed to plague. This tragic incident serves as a clear reminder of the threat posed by this ancient disease and emphasizes the need for heightened community awareness and proactive measures to prevent its spread," said State Public Health Veterinarian Erin Phipps in a news release.

"The last human plague case in the state was a Torrance County resident in 2021. In 2020, there were four human plague cases: one in Santa Fe County, two in Torrance County, and one fatal case in Rio Arriba County," the officials added.

Meanwhile, authorities are reaching out to residents, and a community-wide environmental assessment is scheduled to assess the potential risk.

The officials emphasize that timely diagnosis coupled with proper antibiotic treatment can significantly reduce mortality rates in both humans and pets. Physicians detecting potential plague cases are asked to promptly report them to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Last month, Oregon reported its first human plague after around eight years. The individual was believed to have contracted the infection from a pet cat that exhibited symptoms of the plague.

The symptoms of plague in humans include the sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, weakness, and painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit, or neck areas (buboes). In pets, the symptoms include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and a swelling in the lymph node under the jaw.

A plague may result in complications known as septicemic plague when the infectious bacteria multiply in the bloodstream without buboes. Early symptoms include a sudden high fever, chills, extreme weakness, stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.

In advanced stages, severe symptoms may arise, including bleeding from different body parts, signs of shock like seizures and low blood pressure, and the occurrence of gangrene, notably in the fingers, toes, ears, and nose.

To minimize the risk of plague, the CDC recommends taking these precautionary measures:

1. Make your home, workplace, and recreational spaces rodent-proof.
2. When handling or skinning potentially infected animals, it is advisable to use gloves to prevent direct contact with the plague bacteria.
3. Use repellents if you are likely to have exposure to rodent fleas during activities like camping, hiking, or outdoor work.
4. Protect your pets from fleas by using flea control products.
5. Do not allow dogs or cats that roam freely in endemic areas to sleep on your bed.