FARMINGTON — The Department of Health said a cat who lives in the city of Taos has the plague.

The cat most likely contracted the disease from hunting rodents and prairie dogs in Sunset Park near the intersection of Valverde Street and Town Hall Drive, according to a health department news release.

A second cat in the city is suspected of having the plague and the health department is encouraging the owners of the park to put warning signs around their property. The park is part of Valverde Commons, an adult, sustainable-living community, accoridng to its website.

“Plague cases in pets serve as a warning that there is plague activity in rabbits, rodents and their fleas in the area,” Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Dr. Catherine Torres said in a release. “I encourage everyone to follow simple prevention recommendations to keep themselves, their families and pets safe.”

 Plague is a bacterial disease of rodents that is generally transmitted to humans through bites from infected fleas. It can also be spread by touching animals infected with the diease. It is the same disease that devastated Europe in the 1300s during an outbreak referred to as The Black Death.

Health officials say a widespread plague epidemic is unlikely because it can be successfully treated with
antibiotics and because doctors in plague sites are aware of the disease.

About 10-20 people are diagnosed with the plague in the United States each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. And New Mexico is commonly on of the most common states for the plague; 34 people have died from the plague in the state since 1949, according to health department records.

A San Juan County person was diagnosed with the plague in 2007, which was the last time the plague was confirmed in the county.

Most New Mexico plague cases happen in summer months. About 80 percent of New Mexicans who
suffered from plague were infected between May and September, according to health department
statistics.

“Pets infected with plague are often hunters who have eaten an infected rodent or been bitten by a rodent's fleas prior to getting ill,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health, said in a release. “Pets can transport the fleas back into the home where they can infect people.”

Symptoms of the plague in humans are fever, chills, weakness and headaches. There can also be a painful swelling of the lymph node in the groin, armpit or neck areas.