China Bubonic Plague Nothing to Panic Over ... Yet

Pam WrightLife

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An estimated 30,000 people have been quarantined in parts of a northern Chinese city following the death of a man from bubonic plague.

China's official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday the city of Yumen in Gansu province was sealed off with 151 people under observation after authorities determined they had come in contact with a 38-year-old man who died of the plague July 16.

Authorities believe the man contracted the bacterial infection after contact with a marmot, Xinhua said. The man reportedly chopped up the rodent to feed to his dog and developed a fever the same day.

The report said all the people under quarantine were in good health, but that 10 checkpoints were still blocking off parts of the city of about 180,000.

The plague is a bacterial disease borne by fleas attached to rodents and is highly curable with modern antibiotics. However, lack of treatment can lead to the death of a victim within 24 hours of contracting it. Yumen has set aside about $160,000 for emergency vaccinations, according to the South China Morning Post. "The city has enough rice, flour and oil to supply all its residents for up to one month," reported Chinese state television.

Symptoms of bubonic plague in humans include fever, chills, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and swollen lymph nodes. Pneumonic plague, which is an infection of the lungs, can include severe cough, difficulty breathing and bloody sputum.

Bubonic plague has cropped up to kill millions at various times in history. An epidemic in the 14th century — a period referred to as the Black Death — wiped out roughly half the population of Europe, and tens of thousands died in China in the 19th century. It is still prevalent today in northwest China.

The plague is incredibly rare in the U.S., but isolated cases do occur from time to time, typically in northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, southern Oregon and far western Nevada. An average of seven plague cases are reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, a 7-year-old girl in Colorado contracted the disease after she came in contact with a dead squirrel while camping in southwest Colorado. The girl survived thanks to early treatment with antibiotics.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Pam Wright