WHO monitoring China bubonic plague situation

Updated 08 Jul 2020

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“Bubonic plague has been with us and is always with us, for centuries,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters at a virtual briefing. — Reuters/File
“Bubonic plague has been with us and is always with us, for centuries,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters at a virtual briefing. — Reuters/File

GENEVA/MOSCOW: The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday it was monitoring a case of bubonic plague in China after being notified by the authorities in Beijing.

A herdsman in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region was confirmed at the weekend to have the bubonic plague.

Two other cases were confirmed in Khovd province in neighbouring Mongolia last week involving brothers who had eaten marmot meat, China’s state news agency Xinhua said.

“Bubonic plague has been with us and is always with us, for centuries,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters at a virtual briefing.

“We are looking at the case numbers in China. It’s being well managed.

“At the moment, we are not considering it high-risk but we’re watching it, monitoring it carefully.” She said the WHO was working in partnership with the Chinese and Mongolian authorities.

The UN health agency said it was notified by China on July 6 of a case of bubonic plague in Inner Mongolia.

“Plague is rare, typically found in selected geographical areas across the globe where it is still endemic,” the agency said, adding that sporadic cases of plague have been reported in China over the last decade.

“Bubonic plague is the most common form and is transmitted between animals and humans through the bite of infected fleas and direct contact with carcases of infected small animals. It is not easily transmitted between people.” Though the highly-contagious plague is rare in China and can be treated, at least five people have died from it since 2014, according to China’s National Health Commission.

The man infected in Inner Mongolia was in stable condition at a hospital in Bayannur, the city health commission said in a statement.

Xinhua said that in neighbouring Mongolia, another suspected case, involving a 15-year-old boy who had a fever after eating a marmot hunted by a dog, was reported on Monday.

Russian authorities have warned residents of regions near Mongolia against hunting marmots but stressed there was no risk of bubonic plague spreading across the country.

Russian public health authorities appealed to residents of the mountainous Tuva and Altai regions following last week’s confirmation of two bubonic plague cases in Mongolia. The cases involve brothers who had eaten marmot meat.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organisation said it was also monitoring a case of bubonic plague in China after being notified by the authorities in Beijing.

Authorities in the Tuva region urged residents in a statement to be vigilant and “refrain from hunting marmots and eating marmot meat.” In Altai, which like Tuva also borders Mongolia, officials have launched a public awareness campaign distributing leaflets to local residents, government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said on Monday.

The special focus is on Altai’s Kosh-Agach district, which has been known as a natural hotbed of plague since the 1950s and where marmot hunting is formally banned.

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2020