Tourists stranded in Mongolia by bubonic plague quarantine

Posted by Elise Kirsten on 7 May 2019

Two people have died of the bubonic plague in Mongolia after eating raw marmot kidney. This led to a six-day quarantine in the western Bayan Olgii province which borders both China and Russia.

According to the Siberian Times, the man died on 27 April and his wife three days later. The quarantine was declared on 1 May, and Ariuntuya Ochirpurev of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Ulaanbaatar told the BBC the pair had come into contact with 118 people. These included seven tourists from Sweden, Switzerland, South Korea, and Kazakhstan. All of them had to be isolated and treated with antibiotics for prophylaxis.

Other media reports state that the number of tourists affected by the quarantine was higher and that tourists from Russia, Germany and the US were also barred from leaving.

The Mongolian couple were ethnic Khazaks. Mongolia’s government warns citizens not to consume raw marmot meat as it can carry the plague bacteria Yersinia pestis, however certain people still do. This is due to a belief that eating the innards of the large rodent is good for one’s health.

‘After the quarantine [was announced] not many people, even locals, were in the streets for fear of catching the disease,’ Sebastian Pique, a US Peace Corps volunteer living in the region, told the AFP.

Classified as endangered on the IUCN’s red list, it is illegal to hunt Marmots in Mongolia.



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Also known as The Black Death, the bubonic plague killed about 50-million people across Africa, Asia and Europe in the mid-1300s. Cases are very rare these days, but humans still sometimes contract bubonic infection when it is passed to them from animals by fleas. Left untreated, it leads to death in between 30 and 60% of cases.

According to the WHO, antibiotics are effective against plague bacteria and early diagnosis and treatment can save lives.



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