Bubonic Plague Alert In China: What You Need To Know

It's unlikely the bubonic plague - infamously known as the Black Death - will lead to an epidemic.

Authorities in China have stepped up precautions after Bayannur, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, announced a level III warning of plague prevention and control.

On July 1, state-run Xinhua news agency said that two suspected cases of bubonic plague reported in Khovd province in western Mongolia have been confirmed by lab test results.

The bubonic plague, caused by bacterial infection, can be deadly, but can be treated with commonly available antibiotics.

The level 3 alert forbids the hunting and eating of animals that could carry plague and calls on the public to report suspected cases.

What is bubonic plague?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the disease is caused by the bacteria Yersinia Pestis, a zoonotic bacteria usually found in small mammals and their fleas, with the symptoms of the disease appearing after an incubation period of one to seven days. The disease usually spreads from bites of fleas that have fed upon infected creatures like mice, rats, rabbits and squirrels.

While there are two main clinical forms of plague infection, bubonic plague is the most common form and is characterized by painful swollen lymph nodes or ‘buboes’.

Plague is transmitted between animals and humans by the bite of infected fleas, direct contact with infected tissues, and inhalation of infected respiratory droplets.

According to Harvard Health,  This form of plague is the most common of all (more than 80% of all cases). It takes its name from the infected lymph nodes called “buboes.” Buboes are very painful, red and swollen lymph nodes that develop very quickly near the area of the flea bite. If the bite was on the leg, a bubo would probably appear in the groin.

If the flea bite was on the arm, buboes might appear in the underarm or in the neck. About 2 to 6 days after the flea bite, a person with bubonic plague develops a high fever, chills, muscle aches, headache and extreme weakness and within another 24 hours, 1 or more buboes appear. With prompt treatment of appropriate antibiotics, over 90% of people will survive. Without proper treatment, the Y. pestis bacteria could spread through the bloodstream and a person could develop septicemic plague.


If your doctor suspects you might have plague, he or she will ask whether you:

  • Recently noticed a flea bite
  • Have been around wild rodents
  • Have recently traveled to an area of the world where plague is known to occur.
  • Have been in contact with a dead animal
  • Have been treating a pet that has been extremely ill.

To confirm the diagnosis, blood or other body fluids can be tested to look for evidence of Y. pestis bacteria infection.

It’s unlikely the bubonic plague – infamously known as the Black Death – will lead to an epidemic.

“Unlike in the 14th Century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted,” Dr Shanti Kappagoda, an infectious diseases doctor at Stanford Health Care, told news site Heathline.

“We know how to prevent it. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics.”

The Black Death caused about 50 million deaths across Africa, Asia and Europe in the 14th Century.

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