Health officials in the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia have issued an early epidemic warning after a resident contracted bubonic plague.
Bubonic plague, known as the 'Black Death' in the Middle Ages, is one of the most devastating diseases in history, having killed around 100million people in the 14th century.
The news of the plague has caused concerns regarding a new wave of virus outbreak erupting in China when the nation is still dealing with the coronavirus.
Experts do say that the plague which usually affects wild rats and is spread by infected fleas, will not become a global health threat like COVID-19.
According to the local health commission, a local hospital in the city of Bayan Nur let the municipal authorities know of a suspected plague patient on Saturday, .
The government immediately issued a citywide level three warning for epidemic control, the second-lowest in a four-level system.
Level three warning is announced in China when a city has detected between one to 20 cases of an infectious disease. The patient, who remains unidentified, was later diagnosed with bubonic plague, according to a government notice. The official alert forbids the hunting and eating of animals that could carry plague. It also asks the public to report any suspected cases of plague or fever with no clear causes and to report any sick or dead marmots. The warning will stay in place until the end of the year, said the officials.
Health officials of Beijing city have also warned citizens to avoid overnight camping and close contacts with wild animals when travelling to grasslands in Inner Mongolia. Sunday's warning follows four reported cases of plague in people from Inner Mongolia last November, including two of pneumonic plague, a deadlier variant of plague.
Fears of a new wave of virus crisis after the coronavirus are fuelled in the country following the new plague case. However, British health experts have said that no evidence shows bubonic plague can be passed from one person to another, therefore it is unlikely to trigger another health crisis.
Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said: 'Bubonic plague is a thoroughly unpleasant disease and this case will be of concern locally within Inner Mongolia. 'However, it is not going to become a global threat like we have seen with COVID-19. Bubonic plague is transmitted via the bite of infected fleas, and human to human transmission is very rare.' Prof David Mabey, Professor of Communicable Diseases from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, called the case in China 'not worrying at all'. He said: '[The disease] is transmitted from rodents to human by flea bites.
There were a number of cases recently in Madagascar where it was suspected there might have been human to human transmission due to so called pneumonic plague, when the infection spreads via the blood stream to the lungs, but this was never proven.' Prof Christl Donnelly, Professor of Applied Statistics, University of Oxford and Professor of Statistical Epidemiology, Imperial College London, said commonly available antibiotics were effective at treating plague. 'Sometimes antibiotics are given preventatively to close contacts of cases. Most cases of plague in the last 30 years have been recorded in Africa. However, small numbers of plague cases occur annually in the United States, usually in rural areas of western states,' Prof Donnelly said.
China has appeared to have largely controlled the COVID-19 outbreak but the capital city has been battling a local infection cluster linked to a wet market since mid-June. The plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is usually found in small mammals and their fleas.
The bubonic plague, known as the 'Black Death' in the Middle Ages, is a highly infectious and often fatal disease that is spread mostly by rodents. The bacterial infection can kill adults within 24 hours if not treated in time. Plague cases are not uncommon in China, but outbreaks have become increasingly rare. From 2009 to 2018, China reported 26 cases and 11 deaths.
The news comes after Mongolia, China's neighbouring country, quarantined a region next to the Chinese border after a local cluster of the bubonic plague. Health experts announced Wednesday two suspected cases of the plague - which is linked to the consumption of marmot meat - have been identified.
Local reports suggested that the victims were a 27-year-old male and a young woman, although her age is not known. The provincial capital in western Mongolia is now in quarantine.