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Plague bacteria Yersinia pestis. Illustration: Shutterstock Images

Inner Mongolia reports three sites infected with bubonic plague after herdsman infected

  • Health authorities say all sites have been treated and disinfected and there is little chance of the disease causing an epidemic
  • Tourism leader urges tourists to consider Inner Mongolia grasslands as a destination, being far from the affected sites
Health authorities in Inner Mongolia have identified three sites contaminated with the bacteria that caused the Black Death, after a patient was confirmed with it on Sunday.

One of the sites was in Wengeng township, Bayannur, where the patient, a herdsman, lived. Four dead rats discovered on June 18 were later found to be infected with Yersinia pestis, the plague bacteria, said Fu Ruifeng, deputy director of the Inner Mongolia Health Commission, at a news briefing on Tuesday.

The other two sites were not named, but Fu said all three sites had been disinfected and planes had been deployed to spread drugs to kill fleas, which can transmit the bacteria.

Xu Xiaoyuan, deputy head of the infectious diseases department at Peking University First Hospital, said the disease was endemic, meaning it only occurred in certain areas, and the public should not panic.

“It is usually found among animals in remote areas. People will be fine if they don’t go to these areas and the transmission is contained in the infected area,” Xu said.

The patient had been living and working near the site and had no contact with another bubonic plague patient or anyone with a fever in the 10 days before being diagnosed. The patient also denied skinning any wild animals or being in contact with dead animals.


On July 6, a day after diagnosis, the patient’s temperature, pulse, blood pressure, breathing and heart rate were reported by medical staff as normal. His appetite, mental state and sleep had improved and all vital indicators were stable, according to Fu.

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Fifteen close contacts of the patient have been put under quarantine. The Inner Mongolia autonomous region in northern China has shut down tourist agents and closed scenic spots nearby as a precaution. Herdsmen were asked to disinfect outside their homes. Rats and fleas were killed near railway stations and airports to prevent the spread of bacteria, Fu said.

Wei Zhiguo, deputy head of the region’s culture and tourism department, appealed to the public to avoid the plague-affected areas but to still travel to Inner Mongolia, a place popular for its grassland tourism.

The Wulate Zhong Qi, the equivalent of a county which administers Wengeng township, occupied only 23,000 sq km and was not the main area for grassland tourism, he said.


“Inner Mongolia’s epidemic prevention and control measures are in place, and grassland tourism in Inner Mongolia is safe. Please ease your mind and travel to the grassland,” Wei said.

Plague carriers: rodents, including rats and marmots, are among the animals that can harbour Yersinia pestis. Photo: Shutterstock Images

Bubonic plague, one of the three types of plague and the most common, was caused by the bite of a flea infected with Yersinia pestis. It is less contagious and less lethal than the pneumonic and septicaemic plague and can be treated with antibiotics.

Yersinia pestis can infect rodents – including marmots – hares, foxes, wolves, dogs, cats and sheep, and sometimes jumps to humans. Inner Mongolia is one of the 11 endemic areas to have animal hosts for the disease.


Last month, Wang Wenrui, director of the Inner Mongolia Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the risk of plague caused by a Mongolian gerbil would remain for a long time and could cause sporadic human cases. The possibility of long-distance transmission could not be completely ruled out.

The Wulate Zhong Qi was listed by the region in May as one of 25 areas with a high risk of plague.

Inner Mongolia had been plague-free for 15 years until two patients from Xilin Gol were confirmed to be infected with the highly contagious pneumonic plague in Beijing last November, followed by another confirmation in Xilin Gol days later.

Feng Zijian, deputy director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said at the time that China had had the plague under control since the 1950s and even though there would be sporadic cases, it was almost impossible for it to cause an epidemic.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Plague bacteria found at three Inner Mongolia sites after herdsman infected