Bubonic plague: China closes tourist spots in Inner Mongolia after confirmed case

(CNN) — Authorities in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia have closed several tourist spots after a case of bubonic plague was confirmed this week.

The case was discovered in Bayannur, located northwest of the capital Beijing. Five nearby grassland scenic points have now been closed, with visitors “strictly prohibited from entering the affected area and visiting the surrounding region,” according to state-run Xinhua news agency.

Inner Mongolia authorities are also implementing stricter management of other grassland tourist sites to ensure visitors don’t feed or touch wild animals, and to decrease the population of rodents or fleas that may carry diseases, according to the Xinhua report.

Hospital authorities in Bayannur first alerted city officials of the suspected case on Saturday. The city was placed under a Level 3 warning for plague prevention, the second lowest in a four-level system, on Sunday.

Doctors officially diagnosed the case as bubonic plague on Tuesday. The patient is being isolated and treated in hospital, and is in stable condition, Xinhua reported.

Plague, caused by bacteria and transmitted through flea bites and infected animals, is known for causing the most deadly pandemic in human history — the Black Death, which killed an estimated 50 million people in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Bubonic plague, which is one of plague’s three forms, causes painful, swollen lymph nodes, as well as fever, chills, and coughing.

Scientists and experts cautioned the public not to panic at the new cases — plague has never really gone away, and modern antibiotics can prevent complications and death if administered quickly enough.

The World Health Organization is monitoring the situation in partnership with Chinese and Mongolian authorities, according to state-run newspaper China Daily.

Bayannur health authorities warned the public to report findings of dead or sick marmots, and not to hunt, skin or eat them.

Marmots are a type of large ground squirrel that is eaten in some parts of China and the neighboring country Mongolia, and which have historically caused plague outbreaks in the region.

Consumption of marmot meat or organs has been linked to a smattering of other recent bubonic plague cases across the Chinese border in neighboring Mongolia — two cases were confirmed last week, and a suspected case was reported on Monday.

These cases prompted authorities in Russia, which borders Mongolia, to warn residents in the border area not to hunt or eat marmots meat, and take preventive measures against insect bites.

The Russian Embassy in Mongolia said “there are no grounds for serious concern” as the Mongolian authorities have imposed travel restrictions and isolated infected individuals, according to Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

The embassy also cited Sergei Diorditsu, a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Mongolia, who reportedly said the province sees seasonal outbreaks of the plague, according to RIA Novosti.

“There are natural foci (the bacteria, an animal reservoir and a vector) of plague in Mongolia and the disease is spread by tarbagans (Mongolian marmots),” said the embassy.

“The problem is that local residents who, despite all prohibitions and recommendations of local authorities, continue to hunt them and eat them, as this is a local delicacy.”