BEIJING – A second man has died of pneumonic plague in northwest China, in an outbreak that prompted authorities to lock down a town where about a dozen people were infected with the highly contagious deadly lung disease, a state news agency said.
The World Health Organization office in China said it was in close contact with Chinese health authorities and that measures taken so far to treat and quarantine people were appropriate.
The man who died Sunday was identified only as 37-year-old Danzin from Ziketan, the stricken town in Qinghai province, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Danzin was a neighbor of the first person who died, a 32-year-old herdsman whose name was not given. Another 10 people, mostly relatives of the first deceased man, were infected and undergoing isolated treatment in hospital, Xinhua said in a report late Sunday.
The town of 10,000 people has been sealed off and a team of experts was sent to the area, the local health bureau said Sunday, warning that anyone with a cough or fever who has visited the town since mid-July should seek treatment at a hospital.
A food seller surnamed Han at the Crystal Alley Market in Ziketan said authorities have said that homes and shops should be disinfected and that residents should wear masks when they go out. He said 80 percent of shops in the town were closed and that the prices of disinfectants and some vegetables have tripled.
"People are so scared. There are few people on the streets," Han said by telephone. "There are police guarding the quarantine center at the township hospital but not on the streets."
The situation in Ziketan was stable, said an official surnamed Wang at the local disease control center, who added that the measures taken were "scientific, orderly, effective and in accordance with the law."
Pneumonic plague is spread through the air and can be passed from person to person through coughing, according to the World Health Organization. It is caused by the same bacteria that occurs in bubonic plague — the Black Death that killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages.
While bubonic plague — which is usually transmitted by flea bite — can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early, pneumonic plague is one of the deadliest infectious diseases. According to the WHO, humans can die within 24 hours of infection.
The WHO's spokeswoman in China, Vivian Tan, said China reported the first death and 11 other cases to the organization on Saturday.
"In cases like this, we encourage the authorities to identify cases, to investigate any suspicious symptoms among close contacts and to treat confirmed cases as soon as possible. So far, they have done exactly that, so at this point we don't have any additional advice," Tan said.
In 2004, eight villagers in Qinghai province died of plague, most of them infected after killing or eating wild marmots. Marmots are related to gophers and prairie dogs. They live in the grasslands of China's northwest and Mongolia, where villagers often hunt them for meat.
A woman who lives in Ziketan who refused to give her name said county officials distributed flyers and made TV and radio announcements on how to prevent infection. The woman contacted by phone said police checkpoints have been set up in a 17-mile (28-kilometer) radius around Ziketan and that residents were not allowed to leave.