A Mongolian couple has died of the bubonic plague after contracting it when they ate raw marmot meat last week, prompting a six-day-long quarantine that trapped numerous Western tourists in the country.
The unnamed couple, who were ethnically Kazakh, died after eating raw marmot flesh and offal on May 1, the BBC reported.
Health authorities have for years warned people against eating marmot as they are believed to carry Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague germ, Agence France-Press (AFP) reported.
But some people have ignored those warnings, as the meat of the marmot – a large squirrel-like creature typically found in mountainous area – is considered a remedy to guarantee good health in some cultures in the region, the BBC cited a World Health Organisation official as saying.
Officials believe the Mongolian couple, who died in the country’s western Bayan Olgii province, died after contracting the plague germ, the BBC reported. Bayan Olgii borders China and Russia.
Shortly after their death, regional authorities imposed a six-day quarantine on the western Bayan Olgii province, preventing nine tourists from Russia, Germany, and Switzerland from leaving.
Sebastian Pique, an American Peace Corps volunteer who lives in the region, told AFP: “After the quarantine [was announced], not many people – even locals – were in the streets for fear of catching the disease.”
The quarantine was lifted on Monday, the BBC reported. AFP said no other plague cases were reported.
The most common type of plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis is bubonic, which causes inflammation and pain in a person’s lymph nodes. Pneumonic plague, which is more severe but less frequent, spreads to the lungs and can be transmitted via coughing.
The bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, killed up to 200 million people in Eurasia and Europe in the 14th century.
Deaths from the plague are much rarer now, though a few people in the US still die from it every year, according to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics.