Health and Medicine

Chinese Lock Down City Of 30,000 After Man Dies Of Bubonic Plague

July 23, 2014 | by Justine Alford

Photo credit: National Institutes of Health (NIH), via Wikimedia Commons. Scanning electron micrograph of plague causing bacteria Y. pestis.

As a precautionary measure after a man died of bubonic plague last week, a small city in China is in lockdown and 151 individuals have been placed in quarantine, the Guardian reports

According to China Central Television (CCTV), the 38-year-old man died from the disease last Wednesday which was likely the result of contact with a dead marmot, a large ground squirrel usually found in mountainous areas.

In an attempt to prevent further cases, CCTV said that the 30,000 residents of Yumen, located in the north-western province of Gansu, are not allowed to leave and police have set up roadblocks around the city in order to prevent motorists from entering. Furthermore, four quarantine sectors have been set up in the city for individuals that have been in contact with the man that died, but so far no other cases have been reported.

“The city has enough rice, flour and oil to supply all its residents for up to one month,” CCTV said. “Local residents and those in quarantine are all in stable condition.”

Plague, one of the oldest identifiable diseases known to man, is infamous and has certainly left its mark on history. The disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis that infects numerous different animals such as rats, squirrels and prairie dogs. The bacteria maintain their existence in a cycle involving both these animals and their fleas.

Y. pestis can be transmitted to humans in three ways: flea bites, contact with infected fluids or infectious droplets coughed up by an individual with the disease. There are various different clinical forms of plague, but the most common are bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic.

There have actually been three major plague pandemics recorded in history. The first documented plague, the “Justinian Plague,” began in 541 AD and continued for around 200 years, eventually killing over 100 million people. The most famous is the “Black Death” that occurred in the 14th Century, wiping out 60% of the European population. The last pandemic to occur began in China in the 1860s and killed around 10 million people.

Plague remains endemic in many areas of the world; it’s widely distributed in the tropics and subtropics and is commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. It also still occurs in the US; between 1900 and 2010, 999 confirmed cases were recorded here. It’s highly contagious and serious if medical help is not given, but commonly available antibiotics can effectively treat the disease. 

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