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Tibetan Plague Town Reopening

August 9, 2009

A rare but deadly plague strikes a remote town in western China.
August 8, 2009

KATHMANDU -- Armed police are easing their
quarantine blockade around the mainly Tibetan
town of Ziketan, in China’s western Qinghai
province, and businesses are starting to reopen
after the deaths of at least three Tibetan nomads
from a rare lung plague, residents and officials say.

"People are coming back. Restaurants, shops,
hotels are reopening," one resident said in a telephone interview.

"The plague is now under control," a government
employee said. "Some of the roadblocks are
cleared now and the rest will be cleared in the next few days."

Ziketan, a remote town with a population of
10,000, was locked down last Saturday in a bid to
contain the spread of the highly virulent disease.

Three or four deaths

"Twelve people have been diagnosed with lung
plague," including three or four fatalities, an
employee at Ziketan's Tibetan Medicine Hospital said in an interview.

"They are under intensive care by medical teams
from Ziling [in Chinese, Xining]."

The first fatality was a Tibetan nomad who died
three days after burying his dog, which
apparently came into contact with a diseased marmot.

More infections were reported after the man’s funeral, residents said.

Another resident said armed police had ringed the
town to prevent residents from fleeing and
possibly spreading the plague, but added, “Many
people have escaped the quarantine and run to the hills.”

Deadly plague

Chinese Health Ministry experts quoted by the
official Xinhua news agency said the strict
quarantine measures were proving effective and
the outbreak was unlikely to spread further.

The quarantine zone covers an area of 3,500
square kms (1,400 square miles) centered on the town.

Pneumonic plague is spread through the air and
can be passed from person to person through coughing.

The World Health Organization says the bacteria
which causes the plague is endemic in some
rodents in the region, such as marmots.

The WHO says pneumonic plague is the most
virulent but least common form of plague. The
mortality rate is high and patients can die 24 hours after infection.

Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service.
Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written
and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.
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