New Mexico teen first case of plague this year in the U.S.

A 15-year-old boy became this year’s first human case of plague in the nation, New Mexico Department of Health officials reported this week

The teenage boy, of Torrance County in central New Mexico, was in a hospital in stable condition, according to a statement released by state authorities. Health officials said they are informing neighbors about plague found in the area and educating them on reducing their risks.

“Healthcare providers and others close to the patient may also have been exposed, and are assessed to determine if they need preventive treatment,” Department of Health Secretary Retta Ward said in a prepared statement.

Plague is a bacterial disease that is generally transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas, health officials said. It can also be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals, such as pets, rodents and other wildlife.

It’s unclear how the teenager contracted the potentially fatal disease, health officials said.

In July in California, Los Angeles County health officials temporarily closed parts of Angeles National Forest near Wrightwood after they discovered that a trapped ground squirrel tested positive for the disease.

Symptoms of plague include a rapid onset of fever, chills, headache and weakness.  

In most cases there is a painful swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck areas. The disease can be deadly, but patients usually respond well to antibiotic treatment.

An average of seven human plague cases have been reported each year in the last few decades in the country, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The agency says the disease was first introduced to the U.S. in 1900 by rat-infested steamships that had sailed from affected areas, mostly from Asia. The last urban plague epidemic in the U.S. occurred in Los Angeles from 1924 through 1925.

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cindy.carcamo@latimes.com

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