New Mexico has 150 known species of mammals, one of the highest numbers in the country. Eighty-two species of mammals are known to be hosts of fleas. We have 107 species of fleas in New Mexico.
We have plenty of mammals and plenty of fleas.
Several dogs in New Mexico have been diagnosed with plague. Plague is primarily a disease of wild animals, especially rodents. Some species are particularly susceptible. Prairie dogs, particularly the Gunnison’s prairie dog, are uniformly susceptible to fatal infections of the plague, and large proportions or even entire populations have been destroyed in a single plague event.
Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is of Old World origin and throughout history has been referred to as “Black Death.”
Plague was first discovered in North America from California ground squirrels in 1905 and first detected in New Mexico rodents in 1938. As of 1982, 18 species of rodents, two species of rabbits and nine species of carnivores have been infected by plague in New Mexico.
Plague is spread by fleas. The normal cycle of plague transmission is between wild rodents and their fleas in nature. When fleas ingest bacteria along with blood from infected rodents, the bacteria multiply rapidly in the gut of the flea. New Mexico has a high case rate of plague. For example, during 1988-2002, 112 human cases of plague were reported from 11 Western states. The majority, 97, of the cases were in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico and 48 of those cases were from New Mexico.
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