A 15-year-old boy in Mongolia died of the bubonic plague, the Mongolian health ministry announced earlier this week. Ministry spokesperson Narangerel Dorj said the boy died after eating an infected marmot, large rodents that live in North Asia. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Colorado health officials announced they found a squirrel that tested positive for the bubonic plague.
Two other teenagers ate from the same marmot and are being treated with antibiotics, Dorj said, reports The Associated Press. The government is hoping to stop the plague from spreading elsewhere by quarantining the part of the Gobi-Altai province where the boy ate the marmot. Fifteen people who had contact with the deceased teen are also being quarantined and taking antibiotics.
The Mongolian government has wanted residents not to hunt and eat marmots, which carry the plague. Some other wild animals in Mongolia, northwestern China, and eastern Russia also carry the disease. According to Food Safety News, marmots used in the dish boodog in Mongolia, where people cook the marmot meat by putting preheated stones inside its body. The skin is tied up, making it like a bag to cook the meat inside. This method does not thoroughly cook the meat though, so dangerous pathogens carried by the animal are not killed.
There have been other recent deaths caused by the bubonic plague in Mongolia. In April 2019, a couple died in the province Bayan-Ulgii died after eating marmot meat. According to the World Health Organization, Between 1,000 and 2,000 cases of the bubonic plague in humans are reported each year.
In China, officials reported another case this month, where a patient in Inner Mongolia was infected by the plague. The patient is doing better, according to Xinhua News Agency. Fifteen people who were in contact with the patient were quarantined and released on Sunday. Those who live in the Bayannur region of Inner Mongolia have been told to avoid eating marmot and report dead animals through the end of the year.
There are modern medicines that can treat the plague. Humans can get it by coming in contact with infected animals or bites from fleas. On Saturday, a squirrel in Morrison, Colorado tested positive for the bubonic plague, Jefferson County Public Health officials said. It was the first case of the plague the county has seen this year.
"Symptoms of plague may include sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, nausea and extreme pain and swelling of lymph nodes, occurring within two to seven days after exposure," Jefferson County officials said. "Plague can be effectively treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult a physician."