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A Whole Town Has Been Quarantined After A Couple Died Of Bubonic Plague

A couple have died of the bubonic plague after eating raw meat, sending an entire Mongolian town into a quarantine lock down.

The Mongolian Health Ministry confirmed that a 38-year-old man and his pregnant 37-year-old wife died after eating marmot, a species of giant ground squirrel.

The couple are survived by their four young children, who are aged from two to 13.

They died in Ulgii, a town on the border of Russia, and both the Health Ministry and the army have since reportedly enforced a ban on movement in and out of the town.

Siberian Ministry of Health workers. Source: Siberian Times.

Several dozen foreign travellers from the US, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, South Korea and Germany are currently trapped in the town, reportedly besieging authorities because they're desperate to leave.

A group of nine tourists have sought help from the Russian consulate to be allowed to exit the town.

Specialised health teams have also conducted inspections of passengers arriving in planes, and flights by Mongolia's domestic Hunnu Air have been cancelled as a result of the quarantine.

A total of 158 people who have been assessed as particularly at-risk after coming into contact with the couple are currently under supervision by health authorities.

According to local Ulgii media, Mongolian tradition holds that consuming the raw meat and organs of a freshly-killed marmot strengthens health.

Bubonic plague is spread by a bacterium called Yersinia Pestis, which lives between rats and fleas throughout its life cycle.

The bacteria is endemic in some rodent populations and many types of wild animals -- including rock squirrels, wood rats, rabbits, prairie dogs and chipmunks -- can be affected by plague.

Humans can become infected from both flea bites and contact with contaminated fluid or tissue, which is what occurred in this tragic case.

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It is widely believed that the disease no longer affects modern civilisations and is perhaps most commonly associated with The Black Death, a pandemic that wiped out up to 60 percent of the European population in the 14th Century.

However, bubonic plague continues to occur in rodent populations and outbreaks can happen when humans come into close contact with infected animals.

Siberian health authorities inspecting a plane. Source: Siberian Times.

During the Vietnam War, it's believed US bombing caused bubonic outbreaks by flushing out rodent populations from the forests into villages and cities.

Madagascar has been experiencing an outbreak since the mid-20th Century, with a total of 20,900 cases reported in the island nation from 1957 to 2001. The country has experienced a fatality rate of approximately 18 percent.

Deaths from Bubonic plague in the US are rare but they still occur and some of the western states including California, Oregon, New Mexico and Arizona have been recognised as areas where the bacteria is entrenched in local rodent populations. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an outbreak of bubonic plague that infected 16 people, killing four.

Australia hasn't seen an outbreak of the plague since a spate of infections that occurred in the early 20th Century, claiming 1,371 lives over the course of 25 years.