The case was discovered in the city of Bayannur, located northwest of Beijing, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. A hospital alerted municipal authorities of the patient’s case on Saturday. By Sunday, local authorities had issued a citywide Level 3 warning for plague prevention, the second lowest in a four-level system.
The warning will stay in place until the end of the year, according to Xinhua.
Plague, caused by bacteria and transmitted through flea bites and infected animals, is one of the deadliest bacterial infections in human history. During the Black Death in the Middle Ages, it killed an estimated 50 million people in Europe.
Bubonic plague, which is one of plague’s three forms, causes painful, swollen lymph nodes, as well as fever, chills, and coughing.
Bayannur health authorities are now urging people to take extra precautions to minimize the risk of human-to-human transmission, and to avoid hunting or eating animals that could cause infection.
“At present, there is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city. The public should improve its self-protection awareness and ability, and report abnormal health conditions promptly,” the local health authority said, according to state-run newspaper China Daily.
Bayannur authorities warned the public to report findings of dead or sick marmots — a type of large ground squirrel that is eaten in some parts of China and the neighboring country Mongolia, and which have historically caused plague outbreaks in the region.
The marmot is believed to have caused the 1911 pneumonic plague epidemic, which killed about 63,000 people in northeast China. It was hunted for its fur, which soared in popularity among international traders. The diseased fur products were traded and transported around the country — infecting thousands along the way.
Though that epidemic was contained within a year, marmot-related plague infections have persisted decades later. Just last week, two cases of bubonic plague were confirmed in Mongolia — brothers who had both eaten marmot meat, according to Xinhua.
Last May, a couple in Mongolia died from bubonic plague after eating the raw kidney of a marmot, thought to be a folk remedy for good health. Two more people got pneumonic plague — another form of the disease, which infects the lungs — months later across the border in Inner Mongolia.