Four plague cases in China have prompted the government to stop and search traffic and use airport scanners.
Authorities are checking travellers’ temperatures because a fever is a sign of the deadly rat-borne disease, according to local reporters.
A programme to exterminate rats and fleas was also launched in Inner Mongolia, where cases have been coming from.
The fourth victim was confirmed yesterday – an unidentified farmer from Ulanqab.
The specifics of how they caught bubonic plague, otherwise known as the ‘Black Death’, have not been revealed, other than they had been in a plague-hit area.
The three other cases were residents of the Xilingol League province. One man was treated for the bubonic plague after he ate a wild rabbit, while the first two patients were diagnosed with the more fatal and contagious pneumonic strain.
Four plague cases in China have prompt the government to stop and search traffic for signs of a high temperature. Pictured, a temperature checkpoint is set up along the provincial highway 101 from Sunit Zuoqi to Xilinguole League
Cases of the plague in China have been centred in Inner Mongolia
As well as temperature scanners at checkpoints on main roads and in airports, health authorities have also started a public awareness campaign, The Times reports.
According to Caixin reporters, a ‘firewall’ for entry in and out of Mongolia was set up, forcing people to step out of their cars and have their temperature checked.
As well as this, a unified rodent control operation began November 21, which will continue until the end of this month.
Rodent killing can effectively reduce the risk of rat-borne diseases. Beijing reportedly conducts rodent killing every winter and spring for this reason.
Health officials have urged the public to stay away from wild animals while they try to exterminate rats and fleas.
The recent flurry of cases began on November 12 when two patients from Inner Mongolia were driven by ambulance to Beijing where they were quarantined.
The couple said that their home was infested with rats, according to The Times.
The pair were suffering from pneumonic plague – a strain which can prove fatal in 24 to 72 hours. It infects the lungs, making the disease airborne and easier to catch through coughing.
A 55-year old man from the same region was confirmed the same week, diagnosed with bubonic plague after eating wild rabbit meat.
The bubonic form is less dangerous. However, it is famous for causing the Black Death which killed around a third of all European people in the Medieval era.
WHAT ARE THE THREE TYPES OF PLAGUE?
There are two main forms of plague infection both caused by the same bacteria – Yesinia pestis.
Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague and is spread by the bite of an infected flea. The infection spreads to immune glands called lymph nodes, causing them to become swollen and painful and may progress to open sores. Human-to-human transmission of bubonic plague is rare and it’s usually caught from animals.
If plague infects the lungs – either by the bubonic form progression through the body or by catching the infection from an infected patient or animal’s breath – it is called pneumonic plague.
Pneumonic plague is significantly more deadly and can take hold in as little as 24 hours. Human-to-human spread this way is easy and, if the condition’s not diagnosed and treated quickly, it is often fatal.
Symptoms of both forms of infection include pain the limbs and head, fever, vomiting and weakness. Pneumonic plague also causes coughing and coughing up blood.
Septicaemic plague occurs when the infection spreads to the blood. This is much rarer and can cause the blood to clot around the body – it’s almost always fatal.
Source: World Health Organization
The Ulanqab government said the fourth cases – a herder from the Suzi River Bank of the Siziwantg Banner – sought medical help at the Siziwangqi People’s Hospital.
It was not disclosed how the patient caught the plague, but officials said they had been ‘active’ in a plague-affected location prior to falling ill.
A statement said the patient has been isolated and treated at the local hospital, and their condition is stable.
All close contacts of the cases had been isolated and monitored in case they had also contracted the disease.
On Wednesday, the Ulanqab government urged the public to maintain good personal hygiene and wear a mask any time you go to a healthcare setting.
Those with symptoms of a fever, cough, lymph node pain or bleeding have been told to stay away from others but seek a doctor.
Field workers have been advised to strengthen personal protection because they are close to wild animals.
Both types of plague are caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium, which can be spread by fleas on small animals like rats, rabbits, mice and squirrels.
If the flea bites a human, it can transmit the plague. There is also a risk from eating infected animals or coming into contact with a patient.
A rarer third variant of the diseases is septicaemic plague, which infects the bloodstream.
Between 2010 and 2015 there were 3,248 cases of the plague worldwide, leading to 584 deaths – a fatality rate of 18 per cent, according to the WHO.
The disease remains rare despite its fearsome reputation. From 2009 to 2018, China reported just 26 cases and 11 deaths.
However, large parts of the northwestern city of Yumen were sealed off in 2014 after a 38-year-old resident died of bubonic plague.
Authorities say the current four cases appear unrelated and the risk of the disease spreading was ‘low’ after the first two cases were confirmed.
Some experts say climate change has caused an increase in rodent populations throughout Inner Mongolia. A combination of heavier rainfall followed by longer summer droughts has allowed rats to thrive.