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N.M. Couple Has Bubonic Plague
Disease Investigators Seeking Source of Bubonic Plague Bacteria That Infected N.M. Couple

The Associated Press

N E W   Y O R K, Nov. 7 — Disease investigators tried Thursday to track down the source of bubonic plague bacteria that apparently caused a New Mexico couple to become sick while visiting New York City.

Health officials believe the couple became infected near their home in Santa Fe, N.M., before they arrived in New York on Nov. 1, said Llelwyn Grant, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 53-year-old man and 47-year-old woman showed up at a New York hospital Tuesday, complaining of fever, weakness and swelling. The man remained in critical condition Thursday, and the woman remained in stable condition. They were given Antibiotics , which usually can treat the disease effectively.

While doctors are almost certain the cases are plague, tests to confirm the disease remained incomplete. A preliminary test on the man came back positive Wednesday.

The plague cases would be the first in the United States this year and the first in New York City in at least a century. About 10 to 20 people usually get plague each year in the United States, mostly in the West. One in seven cases is fatal.

Health officials on Thursday repeated their assertion that the public is not in danger because bubonic plague cannot be passed person-to-person.

In extremely rare cases, bubonic plague can transform into pneumonic plague, a contagious form. But health officials have said that is unlikely to happen in these cases and also stressed that the patients were isolated just in case.

In Santa Fe, health workers were testing animals for plague bacteria to learn the source of the infection. Some wild animals, including rodents and prairie dogs, pass the infection to fleas, which can infect humans.

Fleas on the couple's New Mexico property had tested positive.

Investigators also were conducting tests in New York as a precaution, Grant said.

Plague is one of a handful of agents that federal health officials fear could be used in a bioterrorist attack, but health officials stressed that the cases were natural.

Plague outbreaks have killed about 200 million people in the past 1,500 years. The most infamous, Europe's Black Death, started in 1347, killing 25 million people in Europe and 13 million in the Middle East and China within five years.


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