April 17, 2010

China Warns of Potential Plague from Marmots

State media reported Friday that Chinese authorities warned of a potential outbreak of the deadly pneumonic plague in the aftermath of the quake that left at least 760 dead and thousands hurt.

The China Daily said marmots spread the pneumonic plague, and health officials fear the 6.9-magnitude earthquake may have woken the large group squirrels from their winter hibernation.

"The Ministry of Health has asked all personnel involved in rescue work in the region to keep a close eye and report suspected cases of the plague as soon as they are detected," said Feng Zijian from the Chinese Centre of Disease Prevention and Control.

According to Feng, marmots usually hibernate in their burrows until late April or early May, however they could resurface because of the impact of Wednesday's earthquake.

He said rescue workers and survivors of the quake in Yushu county in Qinghai province, which is the remote northwest, should avoid contact with dead animals to reduce the chance of infection.

Last year, an outbreak of the disease killed three people in Ziketan, a town in a Tibetan area of Qinghai.

The World Health Organization says pneumonic plague is the most virulent and least common form of plague. The mortality rate is high, but prompt antibiotic treatment is effective.