​Bubonic Plague Claims Teenager’s Death in Kyrgyzstan

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August 27, 2013

The bubonic plague has claimed the death of a teenager in rural Kyrgyzstan, a conclusion that prompted mandatory testing, quarantines and tighter border control. The plague has prompted about 400 cases since 2012.

Bubonic Plague Kyrgyzstan

Exactly how livestock herder Temirbek Isakunov, 15, who hails from a village in the east of the country, contracted the deadly disease is unclear. While some news agencies quoted a health official saying the youth got the disease from a flea bite, a local newspaper reported that the boy was sickened after eating a barbecued marmot while visiting relatives in the southern part of the country.

Three more people from the same village as the teen have also caught bubonic plague since his death, officials said, according to the Agence France-Presse.

Though the outbreak was small, officials leapt into action, quarantining 105 people who had contact with the dead teenager, including doctors and medical staff who treated him, health official Tolo Isakov said, per Al Jazeera. Police guarded the hospitals where the youth was treated, according to Agence France-Presse, and around 2,000 people were subject to mandatory tests for the plague. In addition, teams of pest-control agents were dispatched to the region to kill and study rodents potentially carrying the disease, British newspaper The Independent reported.

The country of Kazakhstan, which is Kyrgyzstan’s neighbor, increased controls along the Kyrgyzstan border, according to The Guardian.

The bubonic plague, which killed around 25 million people in Europe in the 14th century, is a bacterial infection usually carried by fleas on rodents. It is characterized by swollen lymph nodes (buboes) in the groin and armpit areas. The plague can be treated with antibiotics if the drugs are administered quickly enough (usually within 24 hours).

Also known as the “black plague,” the bubonic plague is rare these days. World Health Organization epidemic disease expert Eric Bertherat told the BBC there were only about 400 cases of bubonic plague reported in 2012, about 90 percent of which were in Africa. The last case of bubonic plague in Kyrgyzstan was 30 years ago, according to Al Jazeera.

Kyrgyzstan Health Minister Dinara Saginbayeva said a bubonic plague epidemic in the Kyrgyzstan region is not likely, per Al Jazeera. “The form of the disease in the teenager is not conducive to a plague epidemic,” she said.