A second man died of pneumonic plague in a remote area of northwestern China as officials quarantined a town to stop the pneumonia-causing disease spreading.
The man, 37, died yesterday in Ziketan in Qinghai province, the official Xinhua News Agency said. He was a neighbor of a 32- year-old herdsman, the first person in the town to die from the disease, according to Xinhua. The World Health Organization is monitoring the town because of the potential for human-to-human spread of one of the most deadly infectious diseases. Pneumonic plague is the most serious of three forms of plague and occurs when so-called Yersinia pestis bacteria infect the lungs and cause pneumonia. The disease can kill 60 percent of its victims if left unchecked. Early treatment with generic antibiotics such as streptomycin and tetracycline lowers the risk of death to less than 15 percent, WHO said on its Web site.
The fact that this area is so remote is definitely a good thing because it makes it a little harder than say an urban setting for this disease to spread, said Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the agency in Beijing, in a telephone interview today: Right now, it seems to be somewhat contained.
The Geneva-based WHO was notified of the cases late on Aug. 1, Tan said. Ten other people, mostly relatives of the initial patient, have been quarantined and arenâ€™t showing symptoms, according to Xinhua. Local authorities traced contacts of the infected people and are observing them closely, Tan said. The quarantined area, situated northeast of Tibet, is adequately supplied with necessities and peoples lives are normal, the local health authority said in a statement two days ago. Ziketan, in the eastern part of Qinghai, has a population of about 10,000 people.
The local health department said that anyone who has visited Ziketan and the surrounding areas since July 16 and has developed a fever or a cough should seek treatment at a hospital. Ziketan is 144 kilometers (89 miles) southwest of the Qinghai provincial capital of Xining, which in turn is almost a 3-hour flight west of Beijing.
Pneumonic plague is spread through the air and can be passed from person to person through coughing and contaminated articles, according to the WHO. It is caused by the same bacteria that occur in bubonic plague -- the Black Death that killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages. Yersinia pestis bacteria are found mainly in rodents, particularly rats, and in the fleas that feed on them. In almost all cases, only the pneumonic form of plague can be passed from person to person.
In the mid-1800s, plague killed 12 million people in China. Better living conditions, antibiotics, and improved sanitation have reduced its prevalence, with more than 2,000 plague cases reported worldwide in 2003.
I donâ€™t think weâ€™re surprised that itâ€™s come up because these things do happen sporadically in different countries, Tan said.
Symptoms of pneumonic plague include fever, headache and weakness that lead to potentially fatal cases of pneumonia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends patients diagnosed with suspected plague be hospitalized and medically isolated while lymph gland, blood and sputum samples are tested. Antibiotics should be given as soon as possible after specimens are taken, according to the CDC.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jason Gale in Singapore at firstname.lastname@example.org; Ed Johnson in Sydney at email@example.com.