Their deadly mistake also caused a village-wide quarantine. 

By Christina Oehler
May 08, 2019

It’s not the 14th century, but the plague is still a very real threat in certain parts of the world. Last week, a Mongolian couple died from the disease after eating the raw kidney of a marmot in Bayan-Ölgii province, which borders China and Russia. According to BBC News, the incident sparked a six-day quarantine in the region the couple was visiting before they died. 

The couple reportedly decided to eat the animal’s raw organs, including its kidney, gallbladder and stomach, because of the local (and ironic) belief that eating marmots can have health benefits. Eating raw meat of any kind, can be dangerous, however, since it can harbor dangerous bacteria.  

In this case, it seems the marmot had the plague—a potentially deadly disease caused by bacteria often found in animals and fleas. According to the CDC, the plague can be spread through flea bites, infectious droplets (such as saliva from a cough), and contact with contaminated fluid or tissue—like eating infected organs. 

As a result of their dinner choice, the surrounding village was quarantined. Health officials worried that the couple may have spread pneumonic plague, a form of the disease that’s highly contagious and spread through airborne droplets. More than 100 people who’d come in contact with the couple since they were infected were isolated and given preventative antibiotics. News of the quarantine reportedly kept many locals off the streets, in fear of contracting the deadly bacteria. 

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According to the Washington Post, the couple reportedly died of organ failure caused by septicemic plague, which occurs when the plague bacteria enters the bloodstream. Unlike the bubonic plague, which is usually caused by a flea bite and can take up to six days to show symptoms, septicemic plague can cause the body to go into shock and organ failure shortly after transmission. Symptoms include fever, lightheadedness and abdominal pain. 

While the plague is extremely rare in the United States, it does occur occasionally in rural areas, usually in the western part of the country. It’s more common in Africa and Asia, where hundreds of cases have been reported over the past 20 years. Regardless of where you live, you can protect yourself from plague by treating your pets for fleas and avoiding contact with wildlife, as well as reporting any dead animals to the local health department.

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