A man in his 20s died of the plague in New Mexico's first reported death from the infection in years

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insider@insider.com (Ellen Cranley)
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bubonic plague

This digitally-colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicts purple-colored Yersinia pestis bacteria, the pathogen that causes bubonic plague.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

  • The New Mexico Department of Health said Friday that a man in his 20s died from the septicemic plague.

  • The death marks the state's first human death of the plague since 2015.

  • The department said the plague originates with wildlife, namely rodents, and is often spread to humans by fleas.

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A New Mexico man in his 20s died of the septicemic plague in the state's first death from the condition since 2015, the state's Department of Health announced Friday.

The department said the man was based in the state's Rio Arriba County and died after he was hospitalized.

"An environmental investigation will take place at the person's home to look for ongoing risk to immediate family members, neighbors and others in the surrounding community," the department said in a release about the death.

The man's death marks the first plague-related death in New Mexico since 2015, according to the department. Last year, the state recorded only one human plague case in a 72-year-old man.

The plague is caused by the yersinia pestis bacteria and usually originates with animals like rodents. Fleas are a common link for humans to pick up the infection, the department said. 

Related: What we know about immunity for the coronavirus

The department says common symptoms of the plague in humans include "sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, and weakness," often with "painful swelling of lymph nodes in the groin, armpit, or neck areas." With immediate diagnosis and antibiotic treatment, "the fatality rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced," according to the department.

To avoid the plague, the department recommends humans protect themselves and their pets from contact with wildlife or fleas. 

Business Insider's Kevin Loria previously reported that the bacteria that causes the plague can result in septicemic plague that appears alone or turns into bubonic plague. Infections are persistent in the American West partially because of the high number of wild rodent populations. 

According to data from the CDC, the US only sees an average of seven human plague cases reported each year.

Department of Health secretary Kathy Kunkel warned state residents in a statement that "plague activity in New Mexico is usually highest during the summer months, so it is especially important now to take precautions to avoid rodents and their fleas which can expose you to plague." 

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