Officials Work To Prevent Bubonic Plague Outbreak In Mongolia After Brothers Infected From Eating Marmot Meat

A shepherd in Mongolia.
Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

Public health officials in Mongolia are reportedly scrambling to trace a potential outbreak of the deadly bubonic plague after two brothers were infected after eating the meat of a marmot.

As The Sun reported, officials there have conducted urgent checks on 146 people who were in contact with the infected brothers, and another 500 who were in contact with those individuals. The report noted that a 27-year-old and 17-year-old were taken to hospitals after contracting the disease, which is spread by fleas that live on wild rodents. The pair reportedly ate the meat of a marmot, a large rodent.

The bubonic plague, which has also been known as the Black Death, can kill within 24 hours without proper treatment. It once ravaged through Europe during the 14th century, killing as many as 20 million people. There have been some scattered cases in recent years, including a Mongolian couple who contracted the disease after eating raw marmot meat in April 2019, but officials have been able to contain outbreaks.

But as The Sun noted, the disease can spread rapidly and have devastating effects on victims.

“The bacteria can travel through the air as well as through the bites of infected fleas and rats,” the report explained. “Bubonic plague can cause swelling of the lymph [nodes]. If untreated it could spread to the blood and lungs. Other symptoms included fever, vomiting and chills.”

The cases come as Mongolia has taken stringent measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which first began spreading in neighboring China. As the South China Morning Post noted, the country had only 200 reported cases of the virus, and all had been from those who traveled outside the nation and brought the infection back with them.

The report stated that a combination of a strong diet and natural resistance to disease has helped the Mongolian population. The same applies to the country’s strong system for communication across long and often desolate lands, which dates back to the time of Genghis Khan.

Chinburen Jigjidsuren, a special health adviser to the prime minister, said the Mongolian government was able to keep people informed on measures to slow the spread of the virus through effective communication using a system dating back to the leader.

“We did the same today, like in the days of Genghis Khan. Government messages from Ulan Bator were quickly relayed to nomads in the remote provinces,” he says.

One of the two infected with bubonic plague in Mongolia was reportedly in critical condition.