August 4, 2009 in Nation/World

China seals off town where plague struck

Ariana Eunjung Cha Washington Post

Origin unknown

Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the WHO in Beijing, said the origin of the pneumonic plague outbreak in China is unknown but that similar outbreaks have occurred sporadically over the years in Africa, the former Soviet Union, the Americas and some Asian countries. In 2003, the most recent year for which figures are available, 2,118 people in nine countries were infected and 182 died.

BEIJING – Chinese authorities have sealed off a remote town in northwestern China after three people died of pneumonic plague and eight others were infected with the highly contagious lung disease.

The Qinghai province health bureau said a 32-year-old herdsman and a 37-year-old neighbor in Ziketan, a Tibetan town of 10,000, have died. A doctor at a nearby hospital where patients are being treated said a third victim, who was 64, died Monday.

Chinese authorities have said most of the other infected patients are in stable condition, but Wen Xin, a physician at the Tibetan Hospital of Xinghai County in Qinghai, said the wife of the herdsman was in serious condition and coughing up blood. He said an additional 13 people are being quarantined at the hospital for observation.

“City leaders, plague experts and cadres from national and local disease control and prevention departments are all in the village,” Wen said.

Pneumonic plague is caused by the same bacterium as bubonic plague, or Black Death, which is estimated to have killed 25 million people during the Middle Ages. While bubonic plague is transmitted by infected fleas, pneumonic plague moves from person to person through the air, according to the World Health Organization. Patients typically become infected by being in close contact with someone who has the plague and is coughing, or by handling contaminated articles. If left untreated, pneumonic plague can cause death within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.

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