A hunter who killed and ate a wild rabbit on the Mongolian steppe contracted bubonic plague, Chinese health officials said Monday, days after two other people from the same region were diagnosed with an even deadlier strain of the disease.
The hunter, a 55-year-old man in China's Inner Mongolia, contracted the disease on Nov. 5 and came into contact with 28 people who were subsequently quarantined, Chinese officials said, according to the Associated Press. None of them have shown signs of a fever or other symptoms, the AP reported.
The diagnosis comes amid tension in Beijing after two people there were confirmed to have pneumonic plague, prompting concern that health officials waited to disclose the diagnosis of plague's deadliest, exclusively contagious form.
Chinese officials said the risk of spreading the disease was "extremely low."
The AP reported those two people are from Xilingol League, a rural grassland region southeast of the country of Mongolia. A doctor who treated one of them said the patient was seen locally but was sent to Beijing after his condition worsened, The Post previously reported.
No epidemiological association has been found between those two cases, according to the AP.
The hunter, also from Xilingol League, was taken to a hospital about 185 miles northwest of Beijing.
While it is not yet clear if his case is related, the disease is most commonly found in rural areas such as Inner Mongolia, where rodents and small animals thrive.
The disease is caused by Yersinia pestis, a bacterium typically found in small mammals and often transmitted by fleas. It can also be acquired through handling tissue or fluids of a plague-inflected animal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The plague, known in the Middle Ages as the "Black Death," was responsible for killing about 50 million people in the 14th century. It was periodically resurgent in the centuries that followed, and in the late 1800s, the disease killed millions in China and Hong Kong as it spread through port cites worldwide.
Now it's manageable and treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early, although it is still claiming lives. More than 3,200 cases of the plague were reported worldwide between 2010 and 2015, and 584 of those were fatal, according to the World Health Organization.
Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease, and 30 to 60 percent of people die after contracting it, according to WHO.
Bubonic plague first attacks the lymphatic system, and if it spreads to the lungs, it becomes pneumonic, which is contagious to other humans through droplets and invariably fatal if left untreated, according to WHO.
A couple in Mongolia's westernmost province died in May after eating the raw kidney, gallbladder and stomach of a marmot. Some Mongolians believe that eating a marmot's uncooked innards to be "very good for health," a WHO official previously told The Post. They died of septicemic plague, a serious strain that kills tissue, turning it black.
The plague is most commonly found in Congo, Madagascar and Peru, WHO has said, with a routine occurrence in Madagascar nearly every year.
In recent decades, the United States has had an average of seven plague cases per year, usually occurring in rural or semirural regions, the CDC said. The areas most affected include northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California, southern Oregon and far western Nevada.