30,000 People In Quarantine After Bubonic Plague Kills One in China

Officials in China are taking dramatic precautions to ensure the disease doesn’t spread

Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes bubonic plague Science Picture Co./Corbis

Parts of the Chinese city of Yumen have been sealed off, and more than 30,000 people have been confined to their neighborhoods or placed in quarantine. The reason for the strict measures? A 38-year old man from that city died of bubonic plague last week. 

Arielle Duhaime-Ross reports at the Verge

City officials say that they have enough rice, flour, and oil to supply all 30,000 residents for up to a month, but reports haven’t yet mentioned how long this situation might last.

The victim contracted the plague after being in contact with a marmot, a large rodent that he’d reportedly chopped up to feed to his dog. Less than 24 hours later he developed a fever, and on July 16 he died in a hospital.

The plague also occurs in the United States, typically in western states. It’s rare, and the last urban plague outbreak in the United States happened in Los Angeles from 1924-1925. Since the 1990s most plague cases have occurred in Africa, typically in small communities or agricultural areas. A plague outbreak in Madagascar last year killed at least 39 people

It’s not surprising that the Chinese government is taking extraordinary precautions. In the 1300s the Black Death (likely the bubonic plague) spread from China across the world, killing huge numbers of people, including an estimated 60 percent of Europe’s population. Another epidemic in the 1800s, which also began in China, killed an estimated 10 million people worldwide. 

Such a huge outbreak is, in the modern day, extremely unlikely. For the most par, the plague is treatable with antibiotics, though some drug-resistant strains have been identified.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.