Two individuals were diagnosed with pneumonic plague in Beijing, local authorities confirmed on Tuesday.
The disease, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is the same form that killed up to 200 million people in the Eurasian pandemic infamously known as the Black Death.
The patients, both from the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, have already received treatment in Beijing’s Chaoyang District. Relevant disease prevention and control measures have also been implemented, state-run Xinhua reported.
Chaoyang Hospital, where the patients received initial treatment, has replaced all the chairs in its emergency room, Caixin Global reported. A resident medical school student also told the outlet that he had received a notice banning them from the emergency room “in the following weeks.”
Transmitted through flea bites and infected animals (often rodents), plague can develop in three different forms: (1) bubonic, which causes swollen lymph nodes; (2) septicemic, which infects the blood; and (3) pneumonic, which infects the lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of the three, pneumonic plague is regarded as the most dangerous, being able to spread from one person to another through cough droplets.
Signs and symptoms may include coughing (with bloody mucus), difficulty of breathing, chest pain, high fever, headache, weakness, nausea and vomiting, according to the Mayo Clinic.
With a rapid progression, the disease may cause respiratory failure and shock within two days of infection, thus requiring an immediate treatment of antibiotics.
The Black Death, which occurred in the 1300s, was one of the most fatal pandemics documented in human history. It is said to have originated in the dry plains of Central Asia, where Yersinia pestis thrived in populations of fleas carried by ground rodents.
All three forms of the disease are believed to be responsible for the deaths of 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. Lodewijk Heyligen, a Flemish Benedictine monk, noted signs of the disease consistent to its pneumonic form:
“It is said that the plague takes three forms. In the first people suffer an infection of the lungs, which leads to breathing difficulties. Whoever has this corruption or contamination to any extent cannot escape but will die within two days.”
In May, an ethnic Kazakh couple in Mongolia died of bubonic plague after eating the raw kidney of a marmot, which happens to be a local folk health remedy. The deaths triggered a six-day quarantine that left tourists from Russia, Germany and Switzerland stranded, the AFP reported.
More than 3,248 cases of plague had also been reported from 2010 to 2015, which included 584 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The agency recommends taking precautions against flea bites and avoiding the handling of animal carcasses.
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