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China seals off town amid plague outbreak

A third person has died of pneumonic plague in a remote northwestern farming town, China's official Xinhua News Agency said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An outbreak of pneumonic plague in a remote farming town in northwestern China has killed a third person, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday, as authorities locked down the town and moved to disinfect the region.

Police set up checkpoints around Ziketan in Qinghai province after the outbreak was first detected last Thursday. The lung infection can kill a human in 24 hours if left untreated. Townspeople reached by The Associated Press by phone said the streets were largely deserted and most shops shut.

The latest victim was a 64-year-old man named Danzhi, Xinhua said.

He was a neighbor of a 32-year-old herdsman in Ziketan and a 37-year-old man who died earlier. A further nine people — mainly relatives of the herdsman — are infected and in a hospital, according to the local health bureau.

Of those, one is in a serious condition and one other has developed symptoms of coughing and chest pain, but there have been no reports of new infections, Xinhua said.

The local government has sealed off the town, and medical staff are disinfecting the region and tracking down those who have been in close contact with those affected, it said.

Authorities urged anyone who had visited the town of 10,000 people since mid-July and has developed a cough or fever to seek hospital treatment.

Most severe form of plague
The World Health Organization office in China said it was in close contact with Chinese health authorities and that measures taken so far to treat and quarantine sickened people were appropriate. It did not comment on the move to seal off the town.

According to WHO, pneumonic plague is one of the deadliest infectious diseases, capable of killing humans within 24 hours of infection. It is spread through the air and can be passed from person to person through coughing.

Pneumonic plague is caused by the same bacteria that causes bubonic plague — the Black Death that killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages. However, bubonic plague is usually transmitted by flea bites.

Pneumonic plague occurs when the bacteria infects the lungs, or after complications from bubonic plague that goes untreated.

People infected with the plague usually experience flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, muscle aches, vomiting and nausea, after an incubation period of 3-7 days. If treated early with antibiotics, plague is curable.

A 2006 WHO report from an international meeting on plague cited a Chinese government disease expert as saying that most cases of the plague in China's northwest occur when hunters are contaminated while skinning infected animals.

More on: China | World Health Organization