Dozens Quarantined In China After Hunter Gets Bubonic Plague From Eating Wild Rabbit

Slide image from 1965 shows Yersinia pestis bacterium. Everett Historical/Shutterstock

Dozens of Chinese residents are in quarantine after coming into contact with a man found to be infected with the bubonic plague, according to a number of media reports.

The 55-year-old hunter reportedly killed a wild rabbit before being diagnosed with the potentially fatal infection in what has become the third confirmed plague case in the country this month. Of the 28 people currently in quarantine, none have run a fever or shown other plague symptoms.

The Associated Press reports that a health authority in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region confirmed that the man was being treated in a hospital as of Saturday. He reportedly ate the hare on November 5 in a rural region of Mongolia known as Xilingol League. A week later, two patients from the same league were diagnosed with pneumonic plague in Beijing, but officials have not found a link between the two cases, reports China’s state-run news agency Xinhua Net.

The US State Department declined to comment in an email to IFLScience. The agency’s international travel information page indicates that there are no plague-related advisories or warnings issued for China at this time. IFLScience also reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) but have not received a response at the time of publication.

More notoriously known as “Black Death”, the plague is historically responsible for the widespread pandemics that decimated Europe in the medieval ages, killing as much as half of the continent at one time. Today, the disease is treatable with antibiotics but early detection is necessary. There are two forms of plague infections that are each caused by a persistent bacterium known as Yersinia pestis. Bubonic plague is transmitted between animals and humans through the bite of infected fleas and kills between 30 and 60 percent of those diagnosed. In its secondary phase, pneumonic plague is highly contagious, spreading through the inhalation of infected respiratory droplets. With symptoms of severe lung infection, shortness of breath, headache, and coughing, nearly all of those infected with the pneumonic plague will die if left untreated, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

 

Medieval painting from a German-language Bible of 1411 shows a man and woman with the bubonic plague characterized by buboes on their bodies. Everett Historical/Shutterstock

Between 2010 and 2015, there were more than 3,200 cases of the plague around the world, resulting in the death of 584 individuals. But versions of the infectious disease occur nearly every year. Just this summer, Colorado officials were forced to close off sections of a national wildlife refuge after flea-infected prairie dogs were found to be carrying the disease. A child in Idaho state was treated for bubonic plague in 2018 after traveling to Oregon, states that have seen two and eight cases respectively in the last 30 years.

Though the plague has been largely eradicated in China and other parts of the world, the infectious disease remains endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, and Peru. In the last two decades, WHO advisories have been listed in a number of other countries, including Malawi, Zambia, India, and Algeria. There are no reported outbreaks at this time.  

Plague epidemics have occurred in Africa, Asia, and South America, but most human cases since the 1990s have occurred in Africa. Almost all of the cases reported in the last 20 years have occurred among people living in small towns and villages or agricultural areas rather than in larger towns and cities. CDC

[H/T: AP]

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