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"Black Death" Plague Surfaces In China And Forces Government To Seal Off A Whole City

The Chinese government closed access to the northwestern city of Yumen after a man died of bubonic plague there last week. No other cases have been reported, but more than 150 people have been placed in quarantine.

Posted on July 22, 2014, at 1:29 p.m. ET

A 38 year-old man died of bubonic plague last Wednesday in Yumen, China, prompting authorities to block all access to the northwestern city.


State television station CCTV reported that officials were not allowing people to leave or enter the city, setting up roadblocks on all points of access and directing drivers to alternative routes.

Although no other cases have been reported, 151 residents have been placed in isolation at four quarantine sectors in the city.


Yumen is a city of 30,000 inhabitants about 1,200 miles from Beijing, in the northwestern region of Gansu.

State television said that the city had enough rice, flour, and oil to supply its residents for up to one month.

Known as the "Black Death," the bubonic plague was responsible for some of the worst epidemics in human history. Experts estimate that it killed between 30% and 60% of Europe's population in the 14th century.

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The disease, which is carried by rats and other rodents, spread through Medieval Europe's crowded cities through fleas, which bit both humans and animals. The Yumen patient became infected after touching a dead marmot — a close relative of the squirrel.

Advances in medical science have made the once-deadly disease easier to cure, reducing mortality from 60% to 15%.

Getty Images

A simple course of antibiotics is enough to kill the deadly bacteria. However, the disease remains lethal if untreated. Sufferers experience high fever, gangrene, and painful inflammation of the lymph nodes known as buboes, which give the disease its name.

This article includes two pictures provided by the CEN/Europics news agency. We have been unable to verify their accuracy independently, for reasons explained here.