STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Two people just got the plague in China — yes, the Black Death plague

Two people in China are being treated for plague, authorities said Tuesday. It's the secon...

Posted: Nov 13, 2019 7:43 AM
Updated: Nov 14, 2019 6:30 AM

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.

Pneumonic -- the kind the Chinese patients have -- is more virulent and damaging. Left untreated, it is always fatal, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

During the Middle Ages, plague outbreaks devastated Europe, killing around 50 million people. Since then, we've invented antibiotics, which can treat most infections if they are caught early enough -- but the plague isn't gone. In fact, it's made a recent comeback.

From 2010 to 2015, more than 3,248 cases were reported worldwide, including 584 deaths, according to the WHO. The three most endemic countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, and Peru.

In the United States, there have been anywhere from a few to a few dozen cases of plague every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, two people in Colorado died from the plague, and the year before there were eight reported cases in the state.

Having caused close to 50,000 human cases during the past 20 years, the plague is now categorized by WHO as a re-emerging disease.

How do you get plague? Is it curable?

According to the CDC, people usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea carrying the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Infected animals like cats and dogs can also infect their owners.

The bacteria persists because low levels circulate among populations of certain rodents, the CDC says. These infected animals and their fleas serve as long-term reservoirs for the bacteria.

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.

How do you protect yourself from plague?

Key steps for prevention of plague include eliminating nesting places for rodents around your home, sheds, garages and recreation areas by removing brush, rock piles, trash and excess firewood, according to the CDC.

Report sick or dead animals to law enforcement or your local health officials, do not pick up or touch them yourself. If you absolutely must handle a sick or dead animal, wear gloves.

Use insect repellent that contains DEET to prevent flea bites and treat dogs and cats for fleas regularly. Do not sleep with your pets as this increases your risk of getting plague. Finally, your pets should not hunt or roam rodent habitats, such as prairie dog colonies.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 175121

Reported Deaths: 2460
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah34937568
Washington23491229
Marion20195299
Clackamas15386204
Lane11591144
Jackson9923127
Umatilla796883
Deschutes712972
Linn416063
Yamhill410175
Klamath349059
Polk344252
Malheur342858
Josephine306362
Douglas304765
Benton273218
Jefferson207032
Coos197531
Columbia154526
Union141624
Lincoln130220
Wasco129128
Hood River112529
Morrow107915
Clatsop8958
Crook88019
Baker85814
Curry5959
Tillamook5813
Lake4137
Grant4124
Harney3066
Wallowa1575
Sherman570
Gilliam561
Wheeler251
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3718210

Reported Deaths: 61038
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles122899723653
Riverside2972154525
San Bernardino2947794555
San Diego2749603674
Orange2689624896
Santa Clara1170812013
Kern1078591322
Sacramento1011721646
Fresno1005621646
Alameda853671477
Ventura802301000
San Joaquin714311334
Contra Costa67019782
Stanislaus603831028
Tulare49383829
Monterey43267357
San Mateo41157560
San Francisco36032523
Santa Barbara33896446
Solano31875239
Merced31196452
Sonoma29696311
Imperial27987719
Kings22774245
Placer21751283
San Luis Obispo20917256
Madera16260239
Santa Cruz15571204
Marin13861226
Yolo13580200
Shasta11677217
Butte11573196
El Dorado9719109
Napa966679
Sutter9268109
Yuba609844
San Benito598663
Lassen566924
Tehama543056
Nevada445775
Tuolumne406664
Mendocino398747
Amador362551
Humboldt358737
Lake340943
Glenn235725
Colusa219816
Calaveras205551
Siskiyou194021
Inyo141738
Del Norte12747
Mono12734
Plumas6906
Modoc4884
Mariposa4247
Trinity3985
Sierra1100
Alpine880
Unassigned610
Medford
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 65°
Brookings
Partly Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 42°
Medford
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 65°
Medford
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 65°
Klamath Falls
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 61°
Staying warm this afternoon
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events