Chinese authorities have reported a case of the Bubonic plague in Bayyanur, Inner Mongolia. Health officials diagnosed a Mongolian herdsman with the plague on Sunday after he reportedly consumed a marmot. Marmots are a type of rodent that is known to carry the disease. 

Local health officials again confirmed the case on Tuesday. The patient is said to be in stable condition after receiving treatment at a local hospital. The Chinese government promptly issued a warning against hunting and consuming illegal wildlife. It is also enforcing precautionary measures against the plague for the rest of 2020.

Earlier this year, the Chinese city of Wuhan became known as ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unlikely that this case of Bubonic plague evolves into another epidemic, but the concern is still there.

What is the Bubonic Plague?

One of three types of known plagues, the Bubonic plague comes from the bacterial strain Yersinia pestis. The deadly disease is most commonly transmitted by rodents to humans. Symptoms typically arise within six days of infection. The symptoms are swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, weakness, and even seizures. 

Because the symptoms are close to the common flu, it can be hard to diagnose the plague. The mortality rate is up to 60% if left untreated.

In the 14th century, the bubonic plague killed close to 200 million people. The Black Death was the most deadly pandemic in human history. The devastation lasted for around four years, and it changed the course of history as no other disease had ever done.

Today, the bubonic plague can be easily treated through antibiotics. With treatment, the mortality rate goes down significantly. Only 1-15% of infected people die of the bubonic plague when treated.

Plague cases are uncommon. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US reports that only about 7 cases of the plague are recorded each year. Furthermore, the plague only survives in rural areas, particularly in the Western US where wild rodents are more likely to be seen. No vaccine currently exists for any of the three types of plague, but the disease can be prevented through proper hygiene practices.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, concern regarding this new case of plague is understandable. But medical advances have all but eliminated the viability of the bubonic plague’s potential as an epidemic. According to Dr. Michael Head at the University of Southampton, the plague “is not going to become a global threat as we have seen with COVID-19.”

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