The Black Death appears to have gotten a toehold in an unlikely community: affluent New Mexicans. That's the conclusion of a new report studying reported cases in the US since 1976, and it's a pretty surprising one, given that the plague has historically cropped up among impoverished people in unsanitary conditions, Health Day reports. "The shift from poorer to more affluent regions of New Mexico was a surprise," lead researcher Anna Schotthoefer says.
The US has averaged about 11 cases a year, mostly in New Mexico. In the 1980s, those were centered mainly in poor regions of the state, but recently they've shifted to affluent parts of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. That shift indicates that researchers may need to re-evaluate which environmental factors lead to increased plague risk, Schotthoefer says. But there's no reason to panic. "This is not a disease of the past," one expert says, "but you are never going to see a massive outbreak of plague in this country." The report comes days after news of an Oregon man hospitalized with plague. (Read more plague stories.)