Two persons are being treated at a Beijing hospital for pneumonic plague, a contagious disease, which could cause a fatal outbreak if not treated and contained immediately.

The two, who hail from the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, have received “proper treatment,” local media reported.

“At present, the two patients have received proper treatment in relevant medical institution of Chaoyang District and relevant disease prevention and control measures have been taken,” official news agency Xinhua reported.

The two individuals were being treated at a central hospital in China’s capital city — home to over 21 million inhabitants — on Tuesday, local authorities said.

The World Health Organisation is monitoring the situation.

“The [Chinese] National Health Commission are implementing efforts to contain and treat the identified cases and increasing surveillance,” Fabio Scano, China head of WHO said, reported UK newspaper The Guardian.

“The risk of transmission of the pulmonary plague is for close contacts and we understand that these are being screened and managed,” news agency Agence France-Presse quoted Scano as saying.

There are three types of plague, a bacterial infection caused by Yersinia pestis: bubonic, which affects the lymph nodes; septicemic, which spreads in the blood; and pneumonic, which affects the lungs.

According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while the bubonic plague spreads through fleas hosted by infected animals, like rodents — it was once referred to as ‘Black Death’, as it wiped out millions in medieval Europe before spreading to Asia and Africa in the 14th century — pneumonic plague spreads through cough droplets. Symptoms include persistent high fever, coughing with blood, and chest pain.

“Pneumonic plague can be fatal within 18 to 24 hours of disease onset if left untreated, but common antibiotics for enterobacteria (gram negative rods) can effectively cure the disease if they are delivered early,” the WHO website reported.

The New York Times reported that the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on microblogging site Weibo that there was no need to panic and that the risks of further transmission are “extremely low.” The CDC said that the patients had been isolated, and epidemiological investigations were conducted on those who were potentially exposed. All relevant sites have been disinfected, the CDC added.

Chinese censors scrubbed the hashtag “Beijing confirms it is treating plague cases” on Weibo in an effort to control discussions and panic around the disease.

In 2014, China had locked down the city of Yumen, home to over 30,000 people, in the northwestern province of Gansu, after a person died of bubonic plague; 151 people were quarantined. According to China’s National Health Commission, a total of five people have died from the plague between 2014 and September of this year. The most recent outbreak of plague happened in Madagascar in 2017, with over 2300 confirmed cases and 202 deaths, according to the WHO.

(With inputs from AFP)

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