Two people in China are being treated for plague, authorities said Tuesday. It’s the second time the disease, the same one that caused the Black Death, one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, has been detected in the region — in May, a Mongolian couple died from bubonic plague after eating the raw kidney of a marmot, a local folk health remedy.
The two recent patients, from the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, were diagnosed with pneumonic plague by doctors in the Chinese capital Beijing, according to state media Xinhua. They are now receiving treatment in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, and authorities have implemented preventative control measures.
Plague, caused by bacteria and transmitted through flea bites and infected animals, can develop in three different forms. Bubonic plague causes swollen lymph nodes, while septicemic plague infects the blood and pneumonic plague infects the lungs.
A 2018 study suggested it’s not just rats that are responsible — the Black Death may have spread by human fleas and body lice.
There is currently no effective vaccine against plague, but modern antibiotics can prevent complications and death if given quickly enough. However, a strain of bubonic plague with high-level resistance to the antibiotic streptomycin, which is usually the first-line treatment, was seen recently in Madagascar.
Untreated bubonic plague can turn into pneumonic plague, which causes rapidly developing pneumonia, after bacteria spreads to the lungs.
A recent report suggests that researchers are exploring a variety of approaches to develop an effective vaccine. Since different vaccine designs lead to different mechanisms of immunity, the authors conclude that combinations of different types might overcome the limitations of individual vaccines and effectively prevent a plague outbreak.