The disease responsible for the Black Death pandemic in the 14th century can be caused by interaction or consumption of rodents infected by Yersinia pestis.
Two suspected cases of bubonic plague have been identified in the Khovd region, Mongolia, associated with the consumption of marmot meat. Local authorities isolated the region, which is close to the border with China and Russia, and temporarily suspended the entry and departure of vehicles.
The National Center for Zoonotic Diseases in Mongolia also identified 146 people who came into contact with the two infected and had samples collected and analyzed. Another 504 people had secondary contact with the patients. According to the local press, the infected are two brothers aged 27 and 17 who are being treated in different hospitals in Khovd.
In 2019, Mongolia also had cases of bubonic plague. In May of that year, a couple died after eating marmot meat, and in November, a 55-year-old man was diagnosed with the disease after eating rabbit meat.
According to the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT), “the risk of plague is present throughout Mongolia, including the districts of Bayanhongor, Bayan-Olgiy, Govi-Altai and Dzavhan.” Transmission can occur at any time of the year.
Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, bubonic plague can be transmitted through the bite or the consumption of the meat of infected rodents, such as squirrels, wood mouse, prairie dogs, marmots, rabbits, and rats.
Infection caused by the microorganism can manifest itself in three ways. The first and most “mild” is bubonic plague, which occurs when the lymph glands are affected, forming bulbs. The second, called septicemic plague, occurs when the bacteria enters the bloodstream. Finally, the third form of the disease is the pulmonary plague, responsible for affecting the respiratory system and spreading the bacteria from person to person through contaminated droplets.
Known for killing more than 50 million people in Europe and Asia during the 14th century, in the Black Death pandemic, Yersinia pestis continues to take lives today. Approximately 2,000 new cases are reported each year, with the regions of Africa, Asia, and South and North America being the most susceptible. The last outbreak of bubonic plague occurred between August and November 2017 in Madagascar, with 2,348 confirmed and suspected cases and 202 deaths.
Today, the disease can be treated with antibiotics and there are no licensed vaccines to prevent the plague. If left untreated, its lethality can vary between 30% and 100%, depending on the type of infection.