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Couple Believed to Have Plague

November 07, 2002|From Reuters

NEW YORK — A couple visiting from New Mexico are believed to have bubonic plague, health officials said Wednesday. If the cases are confirmed, they would be the first in New York City in more than 100 years.

The two are "being evaluated for plague," Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden told a news conference. The male patient, 53, is a presumptive positive for the illness and is in critical condition, he said. The female patient, 47, is in stable condition, officials said.

There is no risk to New Yorkers as bubonic plague is not contagious, Frieden said. Officials are "confident" the couple's exposure to the plague occurred in New Mexico, he said.

"All the epidemiological evidence suggests that these infections were naturally acquired in New Mexico," Frieden said. The source of the infection is "believed to be rodents or rodent fleas near their home," he said.

Plague is spread when an infected person has plague pneumonia and coughs droplets containing the plague bacteria into air breathed by a noninfected person.

Bubonic plague, which swept through Europe during the Middle Ages, has largely been eradicated. But the illness does still occur, with about a dozen cases reported each year in the United States, mostly in the rural Southwest, experts say.

The unidentified couple went to the emergency room at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan on Tuesday night after several days of flu-like symptoms, high fevers and swollen lymph nodes, the hospital said in a statement.

They were immediately placed in isolation, the hospital said.

If detected early, the illness is treatable with antibiotics. Bubonic plague occurs in areas where infection of wild animals is common.

Plague also is one of the most feared potential biological weapons.

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