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Rocky Mountain Laboratories / NIAID / NIH

Two new cases of plague were reported in New Mexico this week, bringing the total number of cases this year up to three. People on Twitter have blamed the infections on everything from "Obamacare" to biblical prophecy. It's been covered by virtually every media outlet (and now us, too).

The bottom line: Plague is a deadly illness that should be taken seriously — but scientists and public health officials say these cases are totally normal. The only thing unusual is how much attention they're getting.

Where it is: Plague plagues the West Coast annually, and most infections occur in the Southwest. Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes it, hangs out in rodents and their fleas. In rural New Mexico, large populations of animals like prairie dogs, mice, chipmunks, and rock squirrels serve as a reservoir for the disease, says Paul Ettestad, the state's public health veterinarian.

How often it occurs: Natalie Kwit, CDC epidemiologist, says there are an average of seven plague cases a year in the U.S., and three cases is "typical, given the average." Ettestad says New Mexico usually sees about three a year, though "it's still early. Most cases occur in June, July and August." Even if there are a few more infections, it wouldn't be abnormal.

If you live somewhere with plague, Ettestad and Kwit offer the same advice: don't feed rodents or touch sick or dead animals, and treat your pets for fleas. If there are wood piles or other rodent habitat near your home, remove them. If you feel a pressing need to walk through a prairie dog colony, wear insect repellant. If you become sick after potentially being exposed, go to a hospital.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
5 mins ago - Technology

Intel CEO wants to compete against Apple

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger hasn't given up on the idea of the Mac once again using Intel chips, but he acknowledges it will probably be years before he gets that chance.

  • In the meantime, he is focused on powering Windows machines that give Apple CEO Tim Cook a run for his money.

Why it matters: In getting pushed out of the Mac, Intel not only lost a customer, but picked up a new rival.

10 mins ago - Health

Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, in an "Axios on HBO" interview, said he's reluctant to withhold federal funding from states that won't enforce school mask mandates because he doesn't want to hurt students.

Why it matters: Cardona's comments suggest there are limits to how far the Biden administration will go in pressuring states to adopt universal masking — or vaccine mandates.

Mike Allen, author of AM
21 mins ago - Axios on HBO

GOP senator smacks Trump

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told “Axios on HBO” he’s not sure former President Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination if he ran in 2024 — a rare voice of criticism from within the party.

  • When I raised the conventional wisdom that Trump would be expected to win the nomination, Cassidy jumped in.“
  • I don't know that,” the senator said during our interview in Chalmette, La.