Couple Eats Raw Marmot Meat for Health But Dies of Bubonic Plague, Triggers Quarantine in Mongolia

By Mimi Nguyen Ly

A couple in Mongolia contracted the bubonic plague and died on May 1 after eating raw marmot meat and kidney.

The unnamed couple tragically left their four children, aged between 2 and 13, orphaned. According to The Siberian Times, the man was 38 and died on April 27. His wife was 37 and pregnant, and she died three days later. They died in western Bayan Ulgii Province, which borders China and Russia.

Dr. N. Tsogbadrakh, director of the National Center for Zoonotic Dermatology and Medicine, told The Siberian Times that the man, referred to as Citizen T, had hunted the marmot and ate its raw flesh “despite the fact that eating marmots is banned.”

“He ate the meat and gave it to his wife, and they died because the plague affected his stomach,” he said.

Their deaths triggered a quarantine that affected 158 people. On May 1, authorities declared a six-day quarantine, imposed on people who had directly or indirectly come into contact with the couple. Locals and a number of foreign tourists from Russia, United States, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, South Korea, and Germany were affected. They were isolated and treated with antibiotics for prophylaxis.

Dramatic pictures relayed by The Times showed urgent checks by emergency staff in protective clothing on a plane. Euronews reported that flights into the city were diverted or canceled, and a border crossing between Mongolia and Russia was closed.

“After the quarantine [was announced] not many people, even locals, were in the streets for fear of catching the disease,” Sebastian Pique, a 24-year-old U.S. Peace Corps volunteer living in the region, told AFP.

The quarantine was lifted late Monday, May 6.

“Thanks to the woolly fat hamster, I had to spend three days in the city of Ulgii,” Russian national Evgeny Viluzhanin wrote on Facebook.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “humans usually get plague after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the plague bacterium or by handling an animal infected with the plague.”

The bubonic plague is the most common form of three types of plagues caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is a highly contagious and deadly disease. It is spread by fleas, and causes lymph nodes to swell in the areas closest to where the bacteria enter the skin. Symptoms include chills, fever, extreme weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bleeding from the mouth, nose and rectum, and blackening of the skin tissue. As such, it is also known as the Black Death or the Black Plague.

The Black Death wiped out millions of people in Europe in the Middle Ages, but cases are now very rare. But each year in Mongolia at least one person dies of the disease, according to the CDC. While potentially deadly, the plague can be treated with antibiotics.

“Presently, human plague infections continue to occur in the western United States, but significantly more cases occur in parts of Africa and Asia.”

The more virulent form is the pneumonic plague, which affects the lungs, and can be transmitted between humans through coughing.

Epoch Times’ reporter Tom Ozimek contributed to this article.