Chinese officials have locked down a village in Inner Mongolia after the country reported its first death of the year from the bubonic plague, the deadly infectious disease that centuries ago killed an estimated 50 million people.
The victim died from an intestinal infection that caused circulatory system failure, the Baotou municipal health commission said on Aug. 6.
The commission has also since quarantined nine close contacts and 26 secondary contacts and put out a level-three alert, the third-highest in a four-tier system, through the end of the year.
So far, all villagers from Sujixin village, where the patient lived, have tested negative for the bacterial disease and have displayed no “unusual symptoms” such as fever. The commission said it will “thoroughly disinfect” the deceased’s residence and nearby homes daily. The Inner Mongolia government has ordered all 12 city-level and 57 county-level disease control centers to hire more officers and set up designated departments for plague prevention.
Inner Mongolia confirmed a second death on Aug. 8 in Bayannur city, northwest of Beijing. The patient was from Urad Front Banner west of the city, and had died of multiple organ failure on Aug. 7 due to gland infection, according to an announcement from the city’s health commission. Following that, the commission quarantined seven close contacts of the victim and began a campaign to eliminate fleas and rodents around the deceased patient’s residence, which has since been sealed off.
The previous case in Bayannur prompted a level-three warning from the city government, which cautioned the public against hunting, eating, or carrying wildlife or related products that could carry the disease. The Bayannur Health Commission confirmed the case on July 5, and also warned that the plague carried the risk of being transmitted among humans.
The herdsman who became sick was seen around the endemic areas before developing symptoms in his glands, Bayannur health officials said. He was receiving isolated treatment at a local hospital and was stable as of July 6.
Inner Mongolia subsequently identified three epidemic sites with Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes the plague. Fu Ruifeng, the deputy director of the Inner Mongolia health commission, said during a press conference that they found four mice that had died of the plague in the town where the infection case was reported. The patient said he had not met with anyone who was feverish over the 10 days before he began feeling unwell, nor did he eat any wild animals or have any exposure to dead animals or mice.
Gland infections usually result from bites from infected fleas, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while intestinal infections often occur when a person consumes animals that were infected with the plague, such as marmots, rabbits, and Tibetan sheep.
Hunted for their furs, marmots were suspected to have brought the pneumonic plague between 1910 and 1911, which claimed some 60,000 lives.
On July 1, Mongolia confirmed two cases of the bubonic plague involving brothers who ate marmot they illegally captured, according to China’s state-run media Xinhua. On July 14, Mongolia’s health ministry reported that a 15-year-old had died after he shared marmot meat with two friends and fell ill. Mongolia imposed martial law on six counties in the province where the teenager died.
Patients of the bubonic disease often exhibit high fever, chills, and sharp headaches. Those with intestinal infections may also have frequent vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pains.
While the intestinal infection of the disease is relatively rare, it can quickly turn into septicemic or pneumonic forms, which are more infectious and deadly, Li Tong, a Beijing infectious disease doctor, previously told the state-affiliated Healthcare Daily.
Such developments can happen in three or five days, which is likely what happened to the Sujixin patient, said Jiang Rongmeng, a Beijing-based national infectious disease expert. If not treated quickly, patients with septicemic infections can die within three days, according to the Chinese CDC.