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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 17:56 GMT
Plague scare in New York
New York skyline
New Yorkers have been told they are not at risk
Two tourists visiting New York City have been hospitalised after developing symptoms consistent with the potentially fatal bubonic plague.

Black rat
Plague is spread by infected rodents and fleas
If confirmed, they would be the first cases of the disease in New York state for more than a century, officials said.

The couple, a 53-year-old man and his 47-year-old wife, arrived in the city from the southwestern state of New Mexico on Friday and were hospitalised on Tuesday after complaining of flu-like symptoms, including fever and swollen lymph nodes.

Preliminary tests on the man later indicated he had tested positive for bubonic plague, while results for his wife are still being awaited.

Both are being treated with antibiotics, but the man is described as being in a critical condition, while his wife is said to be stable.

'No risk'

The bubonic plague occurs in around 10-20 people in the US every year and is considered active in up to 15 states.

The disease is rarely spread through person-to-person contact, instead being passed through infected rodents and fleas.

Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said that rodents in the couple's New Mexico home had tested positive for plague.

Following the anthrax attacks in the US last October, there were fears that terrorists may use biological agents such as bubonic plague against the country's population.

But Mr Frieden stressed that there was no cause for concern among the city's eight million population.

"There is no risk to New Yorkers from the two individuals being evaluated for bubonic plague," he said.

"There is a lot of plague in New Mexico from year to year."

Deadly disease

Bubonic plague, sometimes known as the infamous Black Death, is thought to have caused the deaths of up to 200 million people globally in the past 1,500 years.

In the 14th century alone, around 23 million people are thought to have died after the disease ravaged much of Asia and Europe.

Globally the disease still affects between 1,000 to 3,000 people a year, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

See also:

01 Nov 01 | Americas
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19 Oct 00 | Health
03 Oct 01 | Health
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