Bubonic plague victims trapped in hotel as the disease spreads

Bubonic PlagueCC: Ani Kolleshi at Unsplash

To many of us, the bubonic plague is a Shakespearean horror story. We all know it existed once upon a time, but many of us are confident we won’t come into contact with it.

In recent news, areas of the Ulgii district of Mongolia have been quarantined due to the bubonic plague. So far, there has been two deaths. In a bid to contain the disease, tourists in the area are being held in their hotels.

As the quarantine is set to last up to 21 days, this medieval disease is capturing the world’s attention. So, what is the bubonic plague? And where in the world is it still a problem?

A medieval disease with a terrifying history

Once upon a time, the bubonic plague was known as The Black Death. It was a 14th-century disease that wiped out a third of Europe’s population in a matter of years. It’s a disease that stems from the Yersinia pestis bacteria. The bacteria spreads rapidly via rat fleas, and as Medieval Europe was an unsanitary place to exist, the bubonic plague took hold rapidly.

The causative bacteria wasn’t discovered until the 19th century. In-between, physicians resorted to all kinds of crude remedies for treating the bubonic plague. This included leeches, bloodletting using tools, and herbal tinctures.

Where does the bubonic plague break out today?

Thanks to advances in public health, hygiene, and antibiotics, the bubonic plague is mercifully rare. However, Mongolia isn’t alone in experiencing the occasional outbreak.

The United States experiences a handful of cases each year. On average, there’s around seven, with most occurring in Colorado, northern Arizona, and northern New Mexico. Globally, there’s only one area of the world that remains free from the bubonic plague: Oceania.

What’s happening with the case in Mongolia?

The most recent case concerns an area of Mongolia that’s popular among adventure-seeking tourists. A local couple in their late 30s died as a result of the bubonic plague following eating marmot. Eating marmot is illegal, but remains as an ancient Mongolian tradition. It appears the marmot meat was infected with the disease, resulting in the man and his wife contracting it and passing away.

In a bid to contain the disease, the Mongolian authorities are taking a stern approach. In addition to quarantining visitors in their hotels, they’ve closed their border with Russia. Planes from the region of Uglii are also being searched by port health authorities.

Although the disease proves fatal when it remains untreated, rapid response with antibiotics is a life-saving measure. For now, the tourists in question remain under an indefinite quarantine until the disease stops.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.