Chinese city sealed off after squirrel causes plague death

Masked health workers at the quarantine zone

30,000 residents on lockdown after Chinese man contracts pneumonic plague and dies

LAST UPDATED AT 09:44 ON Wed 23 Jul 2014

Parts of a city in northern China have been sealed off by officials after a man died of pneumonic plague.

Around 30,000 residents are now on lockdown in the city of Yumen in Gansu province after the 38-year-old resident contracted the disease from a marmot – a type of squirrel – and died in hospital on 16 July.

Police have cordoned off parts of the city and quarantined more than 150 people who came into direct contact with the man. Epidemic prevention teams have been deployed around the city, the Daily Mail reports. The original quarantine period is set for nine days, according to state news agency Xinhua.

The infected man contracted the plague after he found a dead marmot in the grassland outside of Yumen and chopped it up to feed to his dogs. It is not known whether the dogs are also infected.

Rodents in Gansu, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia are responsible for a handful of cases of plague each year, the Daily Telegraph reports. In 2004, a small outbreak occurred when 13 cases of plague were recorded in Qinghai, but the threat was quickly contained.

The World Health Organisation says that pneumonic plague is one of the oldest and most deadly infectious diseases known to humanity. It is caused by the bacterium Yersinia Pestis, which primarily affects rodents. The disease is spread between rodents by fleas, and humans bitten by an infected flea can develop pneumonia. Patients can die 24 hours after infection, the WHO says.

The plague occurs in many places in the world today, including Africa, both North and South America and many parts of Asia.

Four cases of pneumonic plague have also been reported recently in Colorado, after a dog was infected with the disease by a rodent.

Colorado has seen 60 cases of plague in recent years, and nine people have died from the disease, according to a Bloomberg report. Doctors recommend keeping a safe distance from any rodents in the Midwestern state, whether alive or dead. · 

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