Too Close For Comfort: The Black Plague in China

Zoe Wernette, Staff Writer

In Northern Mongolia, three people have been hospitalized and 28 others have also been separately quarantined after contracting the Black Plague, the disease that ravaged medieval Europe about 500 years ago. The two adults, a married couple, got the disease from eating a raw rabbit, a typical carrier of the disease, then might have spread it to a neighbor through coughing (a common symptom of the Pneumonic strain, not to be confused with the Septicemic strain, which travels through the bloodstream, and the Bubonic plague, spread by rats).The three infected were air lifted to a hospital in Beijing, where they will be in quarantine and under research for as long as possible. There are three more individuals who have possibly caught the plague as well, in Mainland China, one of the most populated areas on earth. This presents an obvious issue, as the original plague was spread through the densely populated streets of Europe and the Middle East all those years ago.

This is not China’s first encounter with a plague; in 1910, thousands in Beijing and the neighboring cities and towns passed away from an outbreak of the Pneumonic strain. This caused both political and social tension, as at the time, China was under the control of foreign powers. Russia and Japan both claimed that they were the better choice for disease control. Soon after, China’s “modern leader,” Mao Zedong, installed a new system of control, dubbed the “Four Pests.”

There were four pests that Mao planned to rid the entire country, including sparrows, flies, rats, and mosquitoes. This was predicted to better protect China from Schistosomiasis, another modern form of the plague. In 2019, there were more victims, on a plane from Siberia. On May 4th, a plane was grounded and multiple suited doctors boarded, quarantining eleven passengers and attempting to save the two previously infected citizens, a man only identified as Citizen T, and his wife. They were both in the early stages of the disease, only experiencing slight coughing and congestion that they said they passed off as a cold, or a similarly harmless illness. They unfortunately passed away a few days later in a Hong Kong hospital, orphaning their four children and putting 128 other passengers on the plane under strict observation. Now, there are more advanced ways of protection from disease, some of which include quarantine, ointments, and a few suits that look suspiciously similar to those of nuclear scientists, like something out of a science fiction movie.

The doctors and biological researchers working on finding treatments say that the chances of the disease spreading outside of the quarantined area is nearly infinitesimal as they have taken multiple precautions deemed necessary for containing it. The Chinese government has issued a statement on the matter, saying that the two outbreaks are unrelated and are just a coincidence, therefore it is not really considered a threat to the country. However, if there is a country-wide outbreak, due to modern technology in transport, the plague would be able to travel the world in a matter of weeks, and at most months. Prompted by this very plausible concern, the government has also set up disease checkpoints in airports, train stations, and main roads across the country to scan cars, luggage, and commuters, making it a new part of the morning and evening routine.

The World Health Organization has reported that about 1000 people a year contract the plague in one form or another on average. The highest concentration of the diseased are in Madagascar, closely followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Peru. It is spread by the traditional diet of small game and rodents such as marmots. For example, last year in the United States, two in Colorado passed away because of the illness after eating a raw cottontail rabbit that they had caught earlier that day. The best way to prevent the plague is to either avoid raw, sickly-looking game, which already seems like a given. If you feel sick, visit a doctor as soon as possible, and wash your hands, cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, and make sure to always keep clean. Although the plague seems like something we only study in World History, it is still a very real concern.