Typically considered a remnant of the Middle Ages and given modern association with deep poverty, bubonic plague (a.k.a. “Black Plague” and “Black Death”) appears to be spreading through wealthier communities in New Mexico, researchers report.
Why plague is popping up in affluent neighborhoods isn’t completely clear.
“Where human plague cases occur is linked to where people live and how people interact with their environment,” noted lead researcher Anna Schotthoefer, from the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation in Wisconsin. “These factors may change over time, necessitating periodic reassessments of the factors that put people at risk.”
This latest study confirms previous reports that living within or close to the natural environments that support plague is a risk factor for human infection, Schotthoefer said.
Plague is caused by a fast-moving bacteria, known as Yersinia pestis, that is spread through flea bites (bubonic plague) or through the air (pneumonic plague).
The new report comes on the heels of the hospitalization on June 8 of an Oregon man in his 50s with what experts suspect is plague. According to The Oregonian, the man got sick a few days after being bitten as he tried to get a mouse away from a stray cat. The cat died days later, the paper said, and the man remains in critical condition.
For the new study, published in the July issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the researchers used U.S. Census Bureau data to pinpoint the location and socioeconomic status of plague patients.
About 11 cases of plague a year have occurred in the United States since 1976, with most cases found in New Mexico. Plague has also been reported in a handful of other states.