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More Quarantined in Connection to Bubonic Plague Outbreak in Kyrgyzstan

Aug 29, 2013 02:53 PM EDT

Four people have been hospitalized and 160 quarantined due to a localized outbreak of bubonic plague in Kyrgyzstan, The Associated Press is reporting Kyrgyz health officials as saying.

The outbreak is believed to have started when a 15-year-old named Temirbek Isakunov was bitten by a flea carried by a marmot he reportedly consumed. Isakunov died last Thursday from the infection.

Those who were hospitalized, including a two-year-old, exhibited symptoms of the disease, including a high fever and swollen lymph nodes, according to the AFP.

The AFP further reported a Kyrgyzstan government source speaking on condition of anonymity as saying that at least three of the new patients had been in contact with Isakunov.

Caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, bubonic plague is spread from rodents to humans via infected fleas. If the bacteria reaches the lungs, the patient develops pneumonic plague, which can be spread between humans when an infected individual coughs, releasing tiny, bacteria-filled droplets into the air for others to breathe in.

If diagnosed early, bubonic plague can be treated with antibiotics. Pneumonic plague, however, is one of the most deadly infectious diseases with some patients dying within 24 hours of infection, according to the World Health Organization.

Famous for killing millions throughout Europe during the MIddle Ages, plague can still be found today in Africa, Asia and South America. Though rare, cases have been known to occur in the United States, particularly in parts of California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

In July, for example, campgrounds outside of Los Angeles were closed after lab tests confirmed at least one squirrel was infected with the disease. The discovery was followed by a health advisory and an investigation by health officials designed to test other animals and sweep the area for plague-infected fleas.

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