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Plague reported in Western states

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ATLANTA (AP) — Thirteen cases of plague including two deaths have been reported in the western United States this year, the highest number of cases in 12 years, officials said Friday.

Seven cases were reported in New Mexico, three in Colorado, two in California and one in Texas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two New Mexicans died — a woman, 54, who grew ill in May and another woman, 45, who became sick in July.

On average, about seven people a year are diagnosed with plague, CDC officials said. Fourteen cases were reported in 1994.

It's treatable with antibiotics, but health officials stress the importance of prompt diagnosis to reduce the fatality rate.

Plague is transmitted through the bites of infected fleas, but people also can get it by direct contact with infected rodents, wildlife and pets. Most people become ill one to six days after being infected.

The increase probably stems from human encroachment into areas where infected rodents live, said Hannah Gould, a CDC epidemiologist who investigated some of the cases.

Plague takes three forms — bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic. A common symptom of bubonic plague is painful swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck. Other symptoms include fever, chills, and sometimes headache, vomiting, and diarrhea. Septicemic plague can involve fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Eight of the cases this year were bubonic and the other five were septicemic.

Most cases usually occur in May through September, Gould said.