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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

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”