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Bubonic plague: What is it & should we be concerned about new case in China's Inner Mongolia region

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Bubonic plague can spread through contact with an infected flea or small mammal.
Bubonic plague can spread through contact with an infected flea or small mammal.   -   Copyright  Frank Franklin II/AP - FILE
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A suspected case of bubonic plague has been confirmed by health authorities in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The news, first reported by Chinese state media, made global headlines following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local authorities in Bayan Nur issued a level three warning - second-lowest on the scale - ordering residents not to hunt animals, such as marmots, and to adhere to prevention measures.

Google search trends for the phrase "bubonic plague in China" spiked more than 4000% in just 24 hours on July 7.

The plague is a disease caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria, found on mammals such as rats, and can be transmitted from animals to humans.

Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease and is caused by the bite of an infected flea.

The disease caused over 50 million deaths in Europe in the 14th century, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), when it was known as the Black Death.

But is there cause for concern?

If left untreated, the plague can have a high fatality rate of between 30% to 100%, but present research says that the disease is easily treatable with antibiotics.

"Bubonic plague cases are completely normal and expected," said Dr Alexandra Phelan, assistant professor at the Center for Global Health, Science, and Security.

"Particularly here in Mongolia, there are cases every year. There are even cases regularly in the southwest of the United States.

"The disease is most likely transmitted from coming into contact with infected small mammals or their fleas".

According to the US Centres for Diseases Controls and Prevention (CDC), there have been cases of the plague each year in the US between 2000 and 2018.

In fact, the CDC recorded 17 cases in 2006 and 16 cases in 2015. The WHO has also reported that there were 3248 cases worldwide from 2010 to 2015.

"It's understandable that people are jumpy about infectious diseases, particularly one that is associated with causing the Black Death," Dr Phelan told Euronews.

"This case is a normal regular occurrence and the disease is treatable.

"The risk of this causing an outbreak is low, we still have the treatment and it has been contained pretty rapidly."

China has largely eradicated plague, but occasional cases are still reported, especially among hunters coming into contact with infected animals.

The last known major outbreak occurred in 2009 in the town of Ziketan, Qinghai province.

The country also appears to have reduced coronavirus cases to near zero and reported just one new case of local infection in the capital, Beijing.

Click on the video player above to watch Seana Davis' report in The Cube.