SANTA FE, NM: The County of Santa Fe has begun a PR push to reassure travelers that bubonic plague doesn't pose a tourist risk.
The issue arose after a Santa Fe couple visiting New York City earlier this month was diagnosed with the disease and held for observation at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. Media quickly picked up on the story, and rumors of a possible bioterror attack began to circulate.
However, the couple apparently contracted the plague through infected rodents on their rural New Mexico property. The state experiences a handful of bubonic plague cases each year. But Santa Fe county officials feared that the national press interest would prompt tourists to cancel plans.
"Our main goal has been to reassure people that this isn't the same type of plague that killed 25 million people in the 1400s," said Amy Miller, director of Rick Johnson PR (RJPR), which has worked with the county for about two years. "It's bubonic plague, not pneumonic. It is not transmitted from human to human."
The so-called "Black Death" that devastated Europe, China, and the Middle East, was pneumonic plague - a progression of bubonic plague that can spread through coughing. The bubonic plague common to Santa Fe is spread through fleabites or direct contact with infected animals.
RJPR placed a release on PR Newswire quoting experts on the low occurrence of the disease and precautionary measures that can be taken.
"This shouldn't discourage those planning to visit or move to Santa Fe County," Santa Fe County Commission Chairman Paul Duran was quoted.
An FAQ was also placed on the county website detailing cases over the past few years. RJPR and state health officials also fielded calls from national media, as well as from New York health officials and doctors.