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Couple Dies From The Bubonic Plague After Eating Raw Rodent Meat

Bubonic Plague
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A Mongolian couple died from the bubonic plague after eating raw marmot meat. Their deaths prompted the government to impose a six-day quarantine in the town of Tsagaannuur.

Authorities lifted the quarantine on Tuesday after the 118 people who came in contact with the couple were all isolated and treated with antibiotics.

Seven foreign tourists from Switzerland, Sweden, Kazakhstan, and South Korea were among those treated for the disease.

The border between Mongolia and Russia was closed while the quarantine was in effect.

Speaking to  Agence France–Presse, Sebastian Pique, an American Peace Corps volunteer, said:

“After the quarantine [was announced], not many people — even locals — were in the streets for fear of catching the disease.”

Ariuntuya Ochirpurev of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Ulaanbaatar told the BBC that the couple had eaten raw marmot meat and kidney, which some people believe is a folk remedy for good health.

Ochirpurev said the man, 38, and his wife, 37, died of multiple organ failure caused by septicemic plague. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that septicemic plague causes “fever, chills, extreme weakness, abdominal pain, shock, and possibly bleeding into the skin and other organs.”

According to William L. Gosnell, a program director with the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s department of tropical medicine, medical microbiology and pharmacology, “it wouldn’t be surprising” for someone to contract the plague after eating raw rodent meat:

“Any time you eat something raw, there’s always a chance for picking up all sorts of different pathogens. There are so many other zoonotic infections they could have picked up, unfortunately due to the locale, it just happened to be plague.”

So great were fears of an outbreak that “an emergency team from the National Centre of Communicable Diseases boarded the aircraft in hazmat suits to check the 158 passengers on board” a plane that left the quarantined area.

The passengers were then moved to a hospital.

The bubonic plague can kill in as little as 24 hours.

Symptoms include high fever, chills, nausea, weakness and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin. It can be difficult to identify the disease in its early stages because symptoms resemble the flu.

The bubonic plague, or Black Death, is believed to have killed 50 million people in the 14th century. An outbreak in London in 1665 killed a fifth of the city’s residents.

An outbreak in China and India during the 19th century killed more than 12 million people.

Because the disease is so rare today, many had incredulous response to the news.

The plague is endemic in Mongolia, and coming into “contact with and consumption of the marmot,” according to a 2011 article published in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases, is the most likely way of contracting it.

Hunting and eating marmot is banned in Mongolia as a result.