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Second plague death in China

3rd August 2009

A man has died in the remote northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai, of pneumonic plague, officials said.

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The 37-year-old herdsman died in Ziketan, Xinghai county, a town of more than 10,000 people, which has now been sealed off by the authorities.

The remote area is mostly inhabited by ethnic Tibetans.

The death is the second to be reported of pneumonic plague, which has concerned local health officials in recent months.

Local government dispatched 55 healthcare teams across the vast province in February to help control and monitor the outbreak, which is the third to hit Qinghai in the past decade.

Pneumonic plague is the most virulent but least common form of plague, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It is caused by the same bacteria as bubonic plague, which is believed to have been responsible for the Black Death pandemics in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages.

However, pneumonic plague is easier to contract, being transmissible between humans.

The second herdsman who died of it was a neighbour of the first reported death in Qinghai, according to local health officials.

Bubonic plague is usually transmitted by flea bites and can be treated with antibiotics, but pneumonic plague has a much higher fatality rate if it is left untreated.

Beijing-based WHO spokeswoman Vivian Tan said the Chinese authorities appeared to have got the situation under control.

Chinese health officials were keeping the WHO informed, but had not yet asked for direct assistance from the global health body.

Tan said the remoteness of the outbreak and sparse population should make it easier to contain.

The WHO was informed on Saturday of the current outbreak.

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