Chinese city in Inner Mongolia issues bubonic plague warning

Our Foreign Staff
·2-min read
The health committee of the city of Bayan Nur issued the alert  - China News Service
The health committee of the city of Bayan Nur issued the alert - China News Service

A hospital in Inner Mongolia has reported a case of suspected bubonic plague, known as the "Black Death" in the Middle Ages, prompting a health alert from the city authorities. 

The health committee of the city of Bayan Nur in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia issued a third-level alert, the second lowest in a four-level system, on Sunday. 

The report has caused alarm in a world already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but scientists said that the threat was very low. 

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said: “Bubonic plague is a thoroughly unpleasant disease and this case will be of concern locally within Inner Mongolia. However, it is not going to become a global threat like we have seen with Covid-19. Bubonic plague is transmitted via the bite of infected fleas, and human to human transmission is very rare.”

The health alert in Inner Mongolia forbids the hunting and eating of animals that could carry plague and asks the public to report any suspected cases of plague or fever with no clear causes, and to report any sick or dead marmots.

Sunday's warning follows four reported cases of plague in people from Inner Mongolia last November, including two of pneumonic plague, a deadlier variant of plague.

The bubonic plague, known as the "Black Death" in the Middle Ages, is a highly infectious and often fatal disease that is spread mostly by rodents.

Plague cases are not uncommon in China, but outbreaks have become increasingly rare. From 2009 to 2018, China reported 26 cases and 11 deaths. 

Professor Christl Donnelly, Professor of Applied Statistics, University of Oxford and Professor of Statistical Epidemiology, Imperial College London, said that in the modern era, antibiotics were effective at treating plague, and were sometimes even given preventatively to close contacts. 

"Most cases of plague in the last 30 years have been recorded in Africa. However, small numbers of plague cases occur annually in the United States, usually in rural areas of western states," she said.