Bubonic Plague cases surface in China sounding alarm across the Globe: Know What is bubonic plague and How is it caused?

The Bubonic plague or Black death had caused one of the worst pandemics in Asia, Africa and Europe, killing at least half population of Europe in 14th century.

Jul 6, 2020 14:40 IST
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While the world is continuing to battle against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, a city in Northern China sounded an alert on July 5 after it found a suspected case of Bubonic Plague. Following the report, Bayannur, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, announced a level III warning of plague prevention and control.

Under level III alert of plague prevention and control, people have been urged to immediately report any sick or dead marmot, big rodents that resemble squirrels. The alerts also forbids hunting and eating of animals that could carry the plague. 

This is not the first time that a suspected case of bubonic plague is being reported in the world this year. Earlier, two other suspected cases of the plague were reported in Khovd province in western Mongolia.

What is Bubonic plague?

The Bubonic plague also known as black death is a rare but serious bacterial infection that is transmitted by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis. It generally spreads through contact with infected fleas.

Types of Bubonic Plague:

Bubonic plague: The bubonic form of plague is when the bacteria enters the skin through a flea bite and travels through the lymphatic vessels to a lymph node, causing it to swell. In advanced stages, the lymph node could break open with pus. 

Septicemic plague: The septicemic form of plague is when the bacteria is circulated in the blood stream. If this kind of plague is not treated in time, it can be 100 percent fatal. In advanced stages, in can cause tissue death and subsequent blackening of fingers, toes and nose.

Pneumonic plague: The pneumonic form plague is when the bacteria advances to the lungs. This stage is extremely advanced and fatal. 

What are Bubonic plague symptoms?

Bubonic plague symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, muscle ache, fatigue and vomiting. The other symptoms include swollen and painful lymph nodes in the area closest to where the bacteria entered the skin like the armpit or neck area. The symptoms generally develop 1-7 days after exposure to the bacteria. The lymph nodes can break into open sores with pus at the advanced stage of infection. 

What is Bubonic Plague caused by?

Bubonic plague usually spreads from fleas that have fed upon infected animals such as rats, rabbits, marmots, squirrels and mice. The virus may also spread from exposure to the body fluids from a dead plague-infected animal. The bacteria can enter through the skin through a flea bite and travel through lymphatic vessels to a lymph node, causing it to swell. 

How is Bubonic Plague diagnosed?

The Bubonic Plague diagnosis is made by finding the bacteria in the blood, sputum, or from the fluid in the lymph nodes. Those infected from the Bubonic Plague bacteria require urgent hospital treatment with strong antibiotics. 

How fatal is Bubonic Plague?

A Bubonic Plague pandemic is reported to have wiped out more than half of Europe’s population in the middle ages. The plague pandemic is also known as ‘black death’. However, now with the availability of antibiotics, the plague is largely treatable. In case of delay in treatment, the plague has a case- fatality ratio of 30-60 percent. If diagnosed and treated on time, it has just 10 percent fatality rate. 

Does Bubonic Plague spread from human-to-human?

Though as per WHO, human-to-human transmission of bubonic plague is rare, those with the pneumonic form of plague can transmit the infection to other people through droplets.

Is Bubonic Plague airborne?

Yes, Bubonic Plague is airborne, as it is generally contracted from infected fleas. 

What precautions can be taken against Bubonic Plague?

As per local authorities, there is a risk of the human plague epidemic spreading in the city. Hence, the public has been urged to improve its self-protection awareness and ability and report any abnormal health conditions promptly. The warning period will continue until the end of 2020.

Bubonic plague or Black Death: History

The Bubonic Plague resulted in 'black death', one of the worst pandemics in human history, which claimed millions of lives in the 14th century. The plague had reportedly originated somewhere in Asia, and spread through China and India, killing an estimated two-thirds of the European population in the 1340s and 1350s.

The highly contagious plague was airborne so it spread fast and wreaked havoc across the world, killing even the most healthy people. The disease was reportedly brought under control by strict quarantine measures and public hygiene enactments.


According to WHO, bubonic plague is the most common form of the plague. The plague is, however, a rare disease now. Between 2010 to 2015, there were 3,248 cases of Bubonic plague reported worldwide, including 584 deaths. It is now mostly endemic in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Peru.

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