First human case of plague this year is reported in New Mexico

The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) has reported the first case of human plague in the states this year.

Health officials said a 63-year-old man from Sante Fe County is currently being hospitalized and is in critical condition with the pneumonic plague.

The bacterial disease is the most infectious type of plague and is an advanced stage of the bubonic plague that can be passed directly from person to person, in addition to being transmitted by animals and fleas.

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"It's not highly contagious," NMDOH spokesperson Paul Ettestad told AOL News of the disease. "But if someone's coughing up droplets -- and this is usually when the person's in the end stages of the disease -- they are potentially coughing up blood, coughing up the bacteria, [then] somebody in 5 or 6 feet of the area where they coughed could potentially inhale that aerosol and become infected."

However, the disease is fatal if left untreated, Ettestad said, as the host will "go on to develop septicemic plague," which occurs when plague bacteria multiplies in the bloodstream. "And sometimes it will get to the lungs and cause pneumonia," he added.

Ettestad said the department is looking into the case for ongoing risk to those in the area.

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"We have conducted an environmental at the patient's home, collected samples, and alerted the neighborhood," Ettestad said, adding that department officials have been going door to door to spread awareness about the disease found in the area.

According to the Associated Press, there have been 10 dogs and five cats with confirmed plague in New Mexico this year.

The plague typically occurs in the rural and semirural areas of the Western United States, primarily in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

The first plague incident of 2017 was reported in Colorado earlier in March and usually occurs from late spring to early fall. However, the disease can surface any time of the year.

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