On Sunday, Chinese authorities got a concerning report of a suspected case of the bubonic plague in the country's Inner Mongolia region. The infection caused the pandemic known as the Black Death during the middle ages — one of the worst disease outbreaks in human history. Local authorities are taking stringent steps to lock down this possible case, according to a report by CNN.
The infection was discovered in a city called Bayannur, located northwest of China's capital, Beijing, according to the country's state-run news outlet Xinhua News. The patient was hospitalized, and doctors contacted municipal authorities on Saturday when they first suspected the infection to be the bubonic plague. The following day, authorities issued a citywide warning to seek out and contain other possible contamination. It was a Level 3 warning — the second-lowest on the city's scale — and it will stay in place until the end of 2020.
The bubonic plague is a bacterial infection, which is primarily transmitted through infected animals or by fleas. In medieval times, it is believed the plague reached humans through rats that stowed away on shipping vessels. Back then, the plague killed 50 million people in Europe, historians estimate, and left an indelible mark on the culture.
Today, medical experts say that antibiotics can treat the bubonic plague, preventing the worst complications from the infection including death — provided the patient is treated in time. The symptoms include fever, chills, coughing, and painful, swollen lymph nodes.
The people of Bayannur are now going through the familiar steps of social distancing, which people around the world have recently undertaken to slow the spread of COVID-19. A local health official spoke to a newspaper called China Daily, saying that people should simply keep a close eye on their health and that of those around them right now.
"At present, there is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city. The public should improve its self-protection awareness and ability, and report abnormal health conditions promptly," they said.
Bayannur residents are also advised to avoid hunting or eating animals in the nearby region. Authorities warned specifically about sick marmots — a type of large squirrel that is sometimes eaten in parts of China and Mongolia. It is believed that eating marmots led to the pneumonic plague epidemic in the area back in 1911. About 63,000 people died at the time.
This is not the first modern outbreak of the bubonic plague, as the World Health Organization categorizes the infection as a "re-emerging disease." Thankfully, doctors know how to treat the "Black Death" now, and most cases can be cured.