PMP responds to news of U.S. plague death


March 14, 2024

Dan Baldwin

Dan Baldwin

The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) announced March 8 that a Lincoln County man died of plague after being hospitalized for the disease.

The case is the first human case of bubonic plague in New Mexico since 2021 and the first death since 2020.

Plague is a bacterial disease of rodents and is generally spread to humans through the bites of infected fleas. It can also spread by direct contact with infected animals, including rodents, wildlife and pets. Dogs and cats that are allowed to roam and hunt can bring infected fleas from dead rodents back into the home, putting household members at risk.

NMDOH staff is conducting outreach to area residents. An environmental assessment will also be conducted in the community to look for ongoing risk.

The last human plague case in the state was a Torrance County resident in 2021. In 2020, there were four human plague cases: one in Santa Fe County, two in Torrance County and one fatal case in Rio Arriba County.

Pest Management Professional turned to one of its frequent contributors and Editorial Advisory Board member Dan Baldwin, BCE, REHS/RS, CCFS, CP-FS, PCQI, vice president of technical services for Hawx Pest Control in Tombstone, Ariz. Here is his take on what these recent incidents could mean to the professional pest management industry:

Collectively, we have short memories, forgetting how not so long ago, pests represented much more of a threat to human health here in North America. 

Much of the population doesn’t know that the plague involved rodents and fleas, that Hanta involves rodents, and just think about how a few years ago, Zika was the lead story…until Covid. 

Thanks in no small part to the efforts of pest prevention professionals and public agencies, much of the population lives in areas that are far from natural reservoirs of organisms that cause serious illnesses, but that doesn’t mean that the hazards don’t exist, it just means the risk of encountering one of these reservoirs is relatively small for most people. 

Just because the North American reservoirs are small and isolated, however, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Neither does it mean that a pest-borne illness isn’t always one series of interactions from becoming a public health crisis. 

No, you really shouldn’t deliver that message to your customers, there’s no need for scare tactics. What you should do, however, is be mindful of the hazards. But as professionals, we’re guilty of forgetting, or perhaps minimizing the association between pest activity and disease.

When we perform a service to eliminate a German cockroach infestation, do we recommend clean up and santization services? When rodents or other wildlife pests are involved? Do we always wear the proper PPE, recommend clean up and sanitization? What about flea control services after a rodent infestation? Sanitizing after a rodent service? Gosh I hope so. I guess that brings us right back to the plague, doesn’t it?

There is a background level of plague in the U.S., with an average of seven cases per year. New Mexico, from where this latest case originates, has the highest number of cases, with over 250 cases from 1970 to 2020. 

The underlying message is that, although we are fortunate to live where vector borne illnesses are rare, the potential for encountering pathogens exists; we need to be mindful of that while serving the needs of our customers. 

What are your thoughts on plague on the industry? Sound off below or email


About the Author

Ellen Wagner is a former digital editor for PMP magazine.

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