Two people from Inner Mongolia in northern China have been diagnosed with pneumonic plague, Beijing health authorities said Tuesday.
A notice posted on the official website of Beijing’s Chaoyang District government confirmed that a local hospital had admitted and diagnosed the two patients from Xilin Gol League in Inner Mongolia. The patients are being treated at a Beijing hospital, the notice said, and measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the highly contagious and potentially fatal disease.
The patients — a husband and wife — were admitted at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital on Nov. 5, according to a report from domestic media outlet Caijing that cited the hospital. They were initially admitted to the respiratory department before being transferred to the intensive care unit. The hospital’s emergency department was temporarily closed on Tuesday evening but reopened after the patients were transferred to an unnamed infectious disease hospital in Beijing, staff told Sixth Tone.
Reporters with financial news site Caixin observed that the hospital had replaced all the chairs in its emergency room, and local residents told the outlet that police had set up a blockade around the hospital Monday night.
The hospital’s ICU was also temporarily closed, and medical staff who came into contact with the patients will be quarantined for two weeks, according to Caijing. When Sixth Tone called Beijing Chaoyang Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, a staff member said the hospital had “resumed normal operations.”
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published an article Wednesday on its official WeChat account, telling Beijing residents not to worry about the recent situation and reminding them that the disease is both treatable and preventable. “There has never been a case of plague in Beijing until this time,” the article said, adding that residents should still go to work and go about their everyday lives without worrying about contracting the disease.
Plague is a severe infection caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria, which can be found in small mammals — including mice, marmots, and other rodents — and their fleas. The two most common forms of plague are pneumonic and bubonic, with the former infecting the lungs and the latter the lymph nodes.
In humans, symptoms of pneumonic plague include fever, chills, head and body aches, vomiting, and nausea, according to the World Health Organization, which also says the pneumonic form is always fatal if untreated.
Centuries after ravaging Europe as the Black Death, killing hundreds of millions of people, plague has been nearly eradicated thanks to antibiotics. However, isolated outbreaks have occurred from time to time in China’s northern and western regions, including Qinghai, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia, especially around the turn of the 20th century.
The situation has improved in recent decades as local governments have taken more aggressive measures to prevent and control the disease. Over the past 10 years, there have been 26 cases of plague in China resulting in 11 deaths, according to statistics from the National Health Commission. The country’s most recent outbreak was in 2017, leading to one death.
It is not yet known how the Beijing patients contracted the disease.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: A staff member at a local disease control center collects blood samples from rats before testing for plague in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province, Aug. 27, 2019. Pan Songgang/VCG)