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A suspected case of bubonic plague has been reported in a city in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia. After a hospital in Bayannur alerted the authorities on Sunday (July 5), the local health committee of the city has issued a warning for all residents to refrain from hunting or eating any animals that could carry plague and to report any more suspected cases of plague or fever immediately.
Bayannur, a city in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, has issued a third-level alert, the second lowest in a four-tiered system, after a suspected case of bubonic plague. The warning for plague prevention and control will last until the end of 2020.
Starting from Sunday (July 5) onwards, all residents of the city are forbidden from hunting and eating animals that could carry plague. The alert issued by the municipal health committee also asks the public to report any more suspected cases of plague or fever with no immediate or clear cases, and to report any sickened or dead marmots, a species of relatively large squirrels.
The patient suspected of being positive for bubonic plague is a local herdsman. He is now being quarantined and is reported to be in stable condition.
The bubonic plague is a highly infectious disease characterised by swollen lymph nodes and is spread mostly by wild rodents. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the disease can kill an adult if not treated within 24 hours. Symptoms of the disease, which usually develop after 3 to 7 days of infection, are described to be flu-like.
Infamously known as the Black Death during the Middle Ages, bubonic plague caused an estimated 50 million fatalities across Africa, Asia and Europe in the 14th century. The last recorded major outbreak of bubonic plague was the Great Plague of 1665, which killed almost a fifth of London’s population.
Inner Mongolia’s latest suspected case of bubonic plague comes after four reported cases of plague in people in the region last November, and after two people died from the plague in May 2019. They had reportedly contracted the illness after eating the raw meat and kidney of a marmot, which is believed to be a folk remedy for good health.
Plague cases do periodically appear. From 2009 to 2018, China has officially reported 26 cases of the plague, resulting in 11 deaths. During an outbreak in 2017, Madagascar saw more than 300 cases recorded.
However, this latest suspected case of bubonic plague comes at a time when the world is fighting against the coronavirus pandemic, and is yet another reminder that we are constantly threatened by new zoonotic pathogens.
The news also comes after the Chinese researchers had issued a serious warning over another novel disease, a new strain of swine flu called G4, which they say has the potential to trigger yet another pandemic. According to the researchers, over 10% of pork industry workers in China have already been infected with the strain, which we do not have any immunity against and has been observed to cause even more serious symptoms in ferrets than other viruses do.
Scientists have reiterated that we must change our relationship with wildlife and nature if we are to prevent future public health threats.
Lead image courtesy of Armatus1995 / Wikimedia Commons.