Couple In Mongolia Die Of Plague After Eating Raw Rodent Innards For "Health Benefits"

The tarbagan marmot (Marmota sibirica) is only found in Mongolia, China, and Russia, and has been on the menu  albeit, cooked  for centuries. Boko Boldbaatar/Shutterstock 

Misinformation can kill you, literally. Sadly that is what has happened to a Kazakh couple in Mongolia who died from the plague after eating raw rodent meat, which they believed to have "health benefits".

The town of Tsagaannuur, near the border between Mongolia and Russia, was quarantined for six days last week after the man and woman were diagnosed posthumously with plague, a World Health Organization (WHO) official told the Washington Post.

After eating the uncooked innards of an infected marmot (a type of large squirrel), including the kidney, gall bladder, and stomach, they both succumbed to multiple organ failure within a week.  

According to Ariuntuya Ochirpurev of the WHO, the man came down with a fever first, after eating the animal he’d hunted himself. He died within a week, and his wife was sent to the ICU vomiting blood and suffering severe headaches. She died on May 1 from toxic shock.

Unfortunately, catching plague from hunting and eating infected rodent meat is not a new thing in Mongolia, despite being banned, and officials immediately announced the quarantine to try and contain the disease, which can be passed on through airborne droplets.

Borders were closed, tourists were detained, and passengers who potentially had been in contact with the couple were removed from airplanes and immediately sent for medical checks. After six days, and no further cases of plague the quarantine was lifted, but the ministry of health is continuing to monitor the situation.

It is unclear which type of plague the couple contracted, as reports from health officials and emergency responders have both suggested septicemic plague and bubonic, after the initial fear the couple had contracted the highly infectious pneumonic plague.

All types of plague are caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed on to humans from animals, usually from fleas that have fed on infected rodents, but also through consuming infected meat. It is easily transmissible between people through cuts on the skin or inhaling infected droplets in the air from coughs and sneezes.

It’s thought the couple ate the uncooked innards of the marmot they’d hunted because in Mongolia there is an old folk tradition that claims eating the raw meat and internal organs of a freshly killed marmot strengthens health. However, plague kills around one person a year in Mongolia directly because of eating raw infected rodent meat, according to a report in the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Dr N Tsogbadrakh, director of Mongolia’s National Center for Zoonotic Dermatology and Medicine, confirmed to The Siberian Times eating marmot meat is banned because of this risk. Eating any kind of uncooked meat, especially from wild animals, puts you at risk of picking up pathogens that are not killed in the cooking process. In fact, six out of 10 infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, according to the CDC, who recently released a handy guide to the zoonotic diseases we should be most worried about. 

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