Bubonic plague found in a herder in Inner Mongolia, China says

Even as people around the world battle a pandemic caused by a novel virus, old threats remain.

According to a New York Times report, health officials reported that a herdsman in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia was confirmed to be infected with bubonic plague, the disease that caused the Black Death pandemic in the Middle Ages.

The Bayannur city health commission said the plague was diagnosed in the herdsman on Sunday, the report said, and that “he was in stable condition undergoing treatment at a hospital.”

The report said a third-level alert, the second lowest in a four-level system, was issued by the commission, “warning people against hunting, eating or transporting potentially infected animals, particularly marmots, and to report any dead or diseased rodents.”

Plague-prevention measures, that would remain in force for the rest of the year, were put in place by the city government, the report said.

What causes the plague?

Bubonic plague is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium, the report said. It is transmitted by fleas that become infected by rodents, and in Inner Mongolia, the host is often marmots that live in rural areas.

According to the report, Beijing officials said in November two people from Inner Mongolia were found to have pneumonic plague, which is another form of plague caused by the same bacterium, and the “only form that can be transmitted person to person, through respiratory droplets.”

The World Health Organization says pneumonic plague is always fatal if not treated, while bubonic plague “is fatal in about 30 percent to 60 percent of untreated cases: antibiotics can cure the disease if delivered early, the report cited.

According to the report, on Monday, the neighboring country of Mongolia also announced that “it had lifted restrictions in Khovd Province after two cases of bubonic plague linked to the consumption of marmot meat were reported a week ago.” The Ikon.mn news site reported that health officials said the patients’ conditions had improved, the report noted.

How common are plague cases?

According to the report, plague cases are found in limited numbers across much of the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about seven cases, usually the bubonic form, are reported on average each year in the United States, most often in rural areas of western states.

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