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China on High Alert: Bubonic Plague is Back

China has stepped up precautions after a city in Inner Mongolia confirmed one case of bubonic plague.

As the world battles a pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus, Chinese health officials said a herdsman in Inner Mongolia was confirmed to be infected with the bubonic plague; which caused the Black Death in the Middle Ages.

The Bayannur city health commission said the plague was diagnosed in the herdsman on Sunday, July 5, and he was in stable condition undergoing treatment at a hospital.

Officials said they were also investigating a second suspected case, according to China’s Global Times.

The local authorities had issued a citywide Level 3 warning for plague prevention, the second-lowest in a four-level system. The warning will stay in place until the end of the year.

Bubonic plague, which is one of the plague’s three forms, causes painful, swollen lymph nodes, as well as fever, chills, and coughing.

Bayannur health authorities are now urging people to take extra precautions to minimize the risk of human-to-human transmission and to avoid hunting or eating animals that could cause infection.

According to state-run newspaper China Daily, “At present, there is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city. The public should improve its self-protection awareness and ability, and report abnormal health conditions promptly.”

What is the Bubonic Plague?

Bubonic plague, caused by a bacterial infection, was responsible for one of the deadliest epidemics in human history – the Black Death – which killed about 50 million people across Africa, Asia, and Europe in the 14th Century.

There have been a handful of large outbreaks since. It killed about a fifth of London’s population during the Great Plague of 1665, while more than 12 million died in outbreaks during the 19th Century in China and India.

But nowadays it can be treated by antibiotics. Left untreated, the disease – which is typically transmitted from animals to humans by fleas – has a 30-60% fatality rate.

Symptoms of the plague include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin.