Deadly plague on the rise, town quarantined

BEIJING- A rural community in northwest China has been quarantined due to an outbreak of Pneumonic plague.  

According to reports this morning, authorities have sealed off an entire town of 10,000, where a dozen or more have been infected with the highly contagious, deadly lung disease.    "The man who died Sunday was identified only as 37-year-old Danzin from Ziketan, the stricken town in Qinghai province," news reports said. 

Danzin was a neighbor of the first person who died, a 32-year-old herdsman whose name was not given. Another 10 people, mostly relatives of the first deceased man, were infected and undergoing isolated treatment in the hospital late Sunday night.  Health officials are indicating that anyone with a cough or fever who has visited the northwest China region since mid-July should seek treatment at a hospital. 

This plague, according to news reports, is spread through the air and can be passed from person to person through coughing.    Health officials believe that it is caused by the same bacteria that occurs in bubonic plague, which killed an estimated 25 million in Europe during the Middle Ages.  

Bubonic plague can be acquired through flea bites. However, it can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early.   Pneumonic plague is more serious as death can occur within 24 hours of the infection.   

Michael Wines reported this morning that an official who answered the emergency line at Renmin Hospital in Ziketan, where the outbreak is centered, said that all roads into and out of the area had been closed off, but that residents remained free to move about within the town.

The official, who refused to give his name, said it was unclear when the blockade would be lifted. Repeated calls to a plague emergency phone line produced only busy signals.   Ziketan is a remote, ethnically Tibetan town in eastern Qinghai Province, one of the largest and least populated regions of China.       

Article sources: Worcester Telegram, various health news releases, New York Times