Quarantined Chinese town reopens after plague death

A dead marmot is reportedly to blame for a recent outbreak of the bubonic plague in the town of Yumen, in the northwestern province of Gansu in China. (File: AAP)

A Chinese town sealed off after a man died of plague has re-opened after authorities found no further cases of the illness. A dead marmot is reportedly to blame for the outbreak.

A Chinese town sealed off after a man died of plague re-opened on Thursday after authorities found no further cases of the illness, state media said.

Authorities barred 30,000 people living in Yumen in the northwestern province of Gansu from leaving, while road blocks prevented others from entering, after a 38-year-old died from plague last week.

"We have not discovered any new plague cases," the state-run China News service cited Gansu's health bureau as saying.

"The city has enough rice, flour and oil to supply all its residents for up to one month," state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) added. 

"Local residents and those in quarantine are all in stable condition."

It added that authorities had exterminated rodents and fleas in designated quarantine zones, while 151 close contacts of the man had been kept in isolation for nine days without showing symptoms.

Reports said that earlier this month the victim had fed his dog with a dead marmot, a small furry animal similar to a squirrel. He chopped it up to feed his dog but developed a fever the same day. He was taken to hospital after his condition worsened and died last Wednesday.

No further cases had been reported by Tuesday.

Black Death

Plague is categorised as a "Class A infectious disease" in China, a report by the official news agency Xinhua said, "the most serious under China's Law on the Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases".

Bubonic plague is a bacterial infection best known for the "Black Death", a virulent epidemic of the disease that killed tens of millions of people in 14th century Europe.

A more recent pandemic, the Modern Plague, began in China in the 1860s and reached Hong Kong by 1894, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says on its website.

"Over the next 20 years, it spread to port cities around the world by rats on steamships," it says. "The pandemic caused approximately 10 million deaths."

Primarily an animal illness, it is now extremely rare in humans.

Modern antibiotics are effective in treating plague, the CDC says, but without prompt treatment it can cause serious illness or death.

"Human plague infections continue to occur in the western United States, but significantly more cases occur in parts of Africa and Asia," it adds.

If diagnosed early, bubonic plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics, according to the World Health Organization, but in its pneumonic form it can be passed from person to person and is "one of the most deadly infectious diseases".

Cases occasionally emerge in China. A villager who found a dead marmot and ate it with other residents of Litang in Sichuan province, in the southwest, died of plague in September 2012, a newspaper run by the health ministry reported.

Source: AFP