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Yes, one case of bubonic plague reported in China – but ‘not high risk’

“Case of bubonic plague suspected in China,” reads the headline of a CNN news report in a photo of a TV shared on Facebook. It was posted with the comment: “Can we get a break please.” 

As of 9 July 2020, the world had more than 12 million cases of Covid-19, a disease first identified in China. Is there now a danger of bubonic plague? 

The photo was flagged as possibly false by Facebook’s fact-checking system. We investigated.

What is bubonic plague?

Plague is “an infectious disease that affects rodents, certain other animals, and humans”, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

There are three types of plague: bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic. Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease, named for the buboes or swollen lymph nodes that develop in infected people.

The disease is caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria, which are found in many parts of the world. Bubonic plague is “usually the result of an infected flea bite”, the CDC says.

“Patients develop sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, and weakness” and if they are not treated “the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body”.

‘Patient isolated, treated’ in China

On 5 July the health commission of Bayannaoer, a city in China’s Inner Mongolia region, released a statement, in Chinese, that the city had one confirmed case of bubonic plague.

“At present, the patient has been isolated and treated in a local hospital and his condition is stable,” a machine translation of the statement reads.

The South African news site Independent Online reports that Inner Mongolia has issued a level-three alert, “warning of the risks of human-to-human infection and urging citizens to report dead animals, suspected plague cases and patients running a fever for unidentified reasons”.

The BBC says the World Health Organization (WHO) is “carefully monitoring” the case in Inner Mongolia, and that it is “not high risk”.

Bubonic plague was once feared, the BBC adds, but is now easily treated.

WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris told the BBC that the organisation was “looking at the case numbers in China” and that the outbreak was being well managed. – Taryn Willows


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