If you think the Plague is something of our ancestors’ medieval past, think again. It has been confirmed that a 16-year-old New Mexico boy is suffering from the first confirmed case of the Plague of 2016. Officials state that the boy is thankfully recovering and that they will be informing those in his neighborhood of the potential risks and symptoms of this poorly understood illness.
State Health Secretary-designate Lynn Gallagher said of the boy:
“We will conduct an environmental investigation at the teen’s home to look for ongoing risk and to ensure the health of the immediate family and neighbors.”
Although the state may not legally release the name or exact whereabouts of the boy, they can confirm that cases of the Plague have been found in animals in seven New Mexico counties: Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Taos, Sandoval, Rio Arriba and Torrance. They can state, however, that the boy is from Rio Arriba.
Currently, he is in the hospital and is expected to be released in the next few days. Though this is the first case of the Plague in 2016, four cases were confirmed in New Mexico alone in 2015 with one death resulting from the disease.
The Plague, like its medieval cousin, is spread from the bites of infected fleas to people. However, humans can also contract it from direct contact with infected animals and can spread it to one another in very rare cases. It is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is treatable through antibiotics, as long as it is caught in time.
Symptoms of the Plague include fever, chills, headache, weakness, and painful swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin, armpit, and neck. It is unclear if this is the exact same illness that swept through Europe during medieval times, or if it is simply very similar.
Health officials warn individuals to stay out of contact with wildlife to avoid transmission of the disease. They also recommend using appropriate flea treatment on pets and not allowing them to roam and taking them to the veterinarian any time the owner suspects their pet is unwell.
Anna Scanlon is an author of YA and historical fiction and a PhD student at the University of Leicester where she is finishing her degree in modern history.