Chinese health officials have confirmed that a shepherd in Inner Mongolia is infected with bubonic plague. This is a reminder that old threats remain, even if the world is fighting a pandemic caused by a novel virus.
The Bayannur City Health Commission said the plague was diagnosed on Sunday with the shepherd and that he was in a stable condition and was being hospitalized.
The Commission also issued a third-level alarm, the second-lowest in a four-level system, warning people not to hunt, eat, or transport potentially infected animals, especially marmots, and to report dead or sick rodents.
The city government said it had taken disease prevention measures that would remain in effect for the rest of the year.
The disease that caused black death in the Middle Ages is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is transmitted by fleas that become infected with rodents. In Inner Mongolia, marmots that live in rural areas are often hosts.
In November, Beijing officials said two people from Inner Mongolia had pneumonia, another form of the plague caused by the same bacterium. Pulmonary plague is the only form that can be transmitted from person to person through breath droplets.
If left untreated, pneumonia is invariably fatal, while bubonic plague is fatal in about 30 to 60 percent of untreated cases, the World Health Organization said. Antibiotics can cure the disease if given early.
Neighboring Mongolia announced Monday that it had lifted restrictions in Khovd province after two cases of bubonic plague related to marmot consumption were reported a week ago. Health officials said patients' condition had improved, the Ikon.mn news site reported.
Plague cases are found in limited numbers in large parts of the world. In the United States, an average of seven cases, usually the bump shape, are reported annually, most often in rural areas of western states, according to the disease control and prevention centers.