Hunter, 55, becomes the THIRD person in China to catch the plague after eating a wild rabbit infected with the bubonic ‘Black Death’

  • Plague is usually spread among mammals by fleas then transmitted to people
  • If infection spreads into the lungs or bloodstream it is often fatal if untreated 
  • The man came from the Inner Mongolia region’s Xilingol League province
  • Two other people have been infected there but the cases aren’t officially linked 

A man who caught and ate a wild rabbit has become the third person to be struck down with the plague in China this month. 

The 55-year-old was infected around two weeks ago and Chinese health authorities confirmed he was being treated for bubonic plague on Saturday.

He lives in the same area as two other plague cases also diagnosed this month – the Xilingol League province of Inner Mongolia, China.

Officials claim there is no link between the first two patients – who have pneumonic plague, a different form – and the third. 

They said 28 contacts of the man who ate the rabbit have been quarantined. 

Regular plague infections have been wiped out across most of the the world but there are still occasional cases reported in China. Most occur in African nations. 

The infection can be fatal in as many as 90 per cent of cases if it isn’t treated properly. The bubonic form is most famous for causing the Black Death which killed around a third of all European people in the Medieval era.

The man caught plague when he caught and ate a wild rabbit. The infection is usually spread by fleas and may jump to humans when they come into contact with animals or eat their meat (stock image)

The man and two other cases this month have all come from the Xilingol League province in Inner Mongolia, China. The area is about 370miles (600km) north of Beijing

Plague is caused by a bacteria called Yesinia pestis, which is most commonly spread from fleas to small mammals like rats, mice, squirrels and rabbits.

This may then spread to people if they eat the animals’ meat, are bitten by a flea or come into direct contact with an infected animal or person. 

The plague then attacks the immune system, causing glands in the armpits and groin to become swollen and painful, and triggers a fever and gangrene.

There are two main forms of plague infection both caused by the same bacteria – Yesinia pestis. 

Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague and is spread by the bite of an infected flea. The infection spreads to immune glands called lymph nodes, causing them to become swollen and painful and may progress to open sores. Human-to-human transmission of bubonic plague is rare and it’s usually caught from animals.

If plague infects the lungs – either by the bubonic form progression through the body or by catching the infection from an infected patient or animal’s breath – it is called pneumonic plague

Pneumonic plague is significantly more deadly and can take hold in as little as 24 hours. Human-to-human spread this way is easy and, if the condition’s not diagnosed and treated quickly, it is often fatal.

Symptoms of both forms of infection include pain the limbs and head, fever, vomiting and weakness. Pneumonic plague also causes coughing and coughing up blood. 

Septicaemic plague occurs when the infection spreads to the blood. This is much rarer and can cause the blood to clot around the body – it’s almost always fatal.

Source: World Health Organization 

It may progress to pneumonic or septicaemic plague, which infects the lungs or blood and causes people to cough up or vomit blood and is almost always fatal.

A statement from the health authority in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region said that as of Saturday the man was being treated at a hospital in the city of Huade.

It said investigators found the patient from rural Xilingol League ate the rabbit on November 5.

On November 12, two patients also from Xilingol League were diagnosed with pneumonic plague in Beijing.   

China has largely eradicated plague, but occasional cases are still reported, especially among hunters who come into contact with infected fleas.

The last major known outbreak was in 2009, when several people died in the town of Ziketan in Qinghai province on the Tibetan Plateau. 

Across the whole world there were 3,248 plague cases diagnosed between 2010 and 2015 – 650 per year – with 584 deaths.

The infection is most common in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Peru. 

Madagascar is the worst affected and tends to have cases every year during an ‘epidemic season’, according to the World Health Organization. 

China has vastly improved its detection and management of infectious diseases since the 2003 outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, that led to 774 deaths, mostly in China and Hong Kong. 

Beijing was accused of initially covering up the outbreak and dragging its feet in cooperating with the World Health Organization, allowing the disease to spread outside the country. 


Bubonic plague is one of the most devastating diseases in history, having killed around 100million people during the ‘Black Death’ in the 14th century.

Drawings and paintings from the outbreak, which wiped out about a third of the European population, depict town criers saying ‘bring out your dead’ while dragging trailers piled with infected corpses.

It is caused by a bacterium known as Yersinia pestis, which uses the flea as a host and is usually transmitted to humans via rats.

The disease causes grotesque symptoms such as gangrene and the appearance of large swellings on the groin, armpits or neck, known as ‘buboes’.

It kills up to two thirds of sufferers within just days if it is not treated, although if antibiotics are administered within 24 hours of infection patients are likely to survive.

After the Black Death arrived in 1347 plague became a common phenomenon in Europe, with outbreaks recurring regularly until the 18th century.

Bubonic plague has almost completely vanished from the developed world, with 90 per cent of all cases now found in Africa.

However, there have been a few non-fatal cases in the US in recent years, while in August 2013 a 15-year-old boy died in Kyrgyzstan after eating a groundhog infected with the disease.

Three months later, an outbreak in Madagascar killed at least 20 people in a week. A year before, 60 people died there as a result of the infection – more than in any other country in the world.

Outbreaks in China have been rare in recent years, and most have happened in remote rural areas of the west.

China’s state broadcaster said there were 12 diagnosed cases and three deaths in the province of Qinghai in 2009, and one in Sichuan in 2012.

In the United States between five and 15 people die every year as a result, mostly in western states.

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