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August 4, 2009

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Plague claims life of a third man in Qinghai

A THIRD man has died of pneumonic plague in northwest China in an outbreak that prompted authorities to lock down a town where about a dozen people were infected with the highly contagious lung disease.

The man who died yesterday was a 64 years old resident of Ziketan in Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, Xinhua news agency reported.

The World Health Organization said yesterday it was in close contact with Chinese health authorities and that measures taken so far to treat and quarantine sickened people were appropriate.

The second man, 37, who died on Sunday, was a neighbor of the first person who died, a 32-year-old herdsman. Another nine people, mostly relatives of the first deceased man, were infected and undergoing treatment. Xinhua said one of them was in a critical condition last night.

Shops closed

The town of 10,000 people has been sealed off and a team of experts was sent to the area, the local health bureau said on Sunday, warning that anyone with a cough or fever who visited the town of Ziketan since mid-July should seek treatment at a hospital.

According to a food seller surnamed Han at the Crystal Alley Market in Ziketan, authorities have said homes and shops should be disinfected and residents should wear masks when they go out. He said 80 percent of the town's shops were closed and prices of disinfectants and some vegetables have tripled.

"People are so scared. There are few people on the streets," Han told the Associated Press by telephone. "There are police guarding the quarantine center at the township hospital but not on the streets."

A woman, who refused to give her name, said county officials distributed flyers and made TV and radio announcements on how to prevent infection. The woman said police checkpoints were set up in a 28-kilometer radius around the prefecture and residents were not allowed to leave.

Black Death link

Pneumonic plague is spread through the air and can be passed from person to person through coughing, according to the WHO. It is caused by the same bacteria that occurs in bubonic plague - the Black Death that killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Pneumonic plague is one of the deadliest infectious diseases, capable of killing humans within 24 hours of infection.

The WHO's spokeswoman in China, Vivian Tan, said China reported the first death and 11 other cases to the organization on Saturday.

"In cases like this, we encourage the authorities to identify cases, to investigate any suspicious symptoms among close contacts and to treat confirmed cases as soon as possible. So far, they have done exactly that; so at this point we don't have any additional advice," Tan said.

In 2004, eight villagers in Qinghai died of plague, most of them infected after killing or eating wild marmots, which are related to gophers and prairie dogs and live in grasslands.


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