Bubonic Plague Kills Kyrgyzstan Teen: How Did Temir Issakunov Contract Deadly Bacterial Disease?

By Philip Ross on August 27, 2013 12:29 PM EDT

bubonic plague
A teen in Kyrgyzstan died last Thursday after becoming infected with the bubonic plague. The Yersinia pestis, pictured here, is carried by fleas and causes the various forms of the plague disease. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A boy in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan died last Thursday after becoming infected with the bubonic plague. According to The Telegraph, 15-year-old Temir Issakuno, a herder from a small mountain village in eastern Kyrgyzstan, has been cremated and his remains were buried. His is the first case of bubonic plague in Kyrgyzstan in 30 years.

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How did Issakuno contract the deadly bacterial disease that, almost 700 years ago, killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe? Doctors believe the teen was bitten by an infected flea carried on a rodent, The BBC reports.

A team has been dispatched to the area where the boy was killed by the bubonic plague to exterminate any rodents they find. Health officials are testing more than 2,000 people in the region to see if they, too, carry the bubonic plague disease. One hundred people have even been quarantined, Mirror reports.

Luckily, health officials believe an outbreak of the disease is unlikely. "There will not be a bubonic plague epidemic," Dinara Saginbayeva, Kyrgyzstan's Health Minister, said in a statement. "The form of the disease in the teenager is not conducive to a plague epidemic. So there are no grounds for closing the borders."

Bubonic plague infections in humans today are very rare. According to the BBC, in 2012, there were an estimated 400 cases of bubonic plague around the world, the majority of which occurred in Africa.

In the U.S., there were 999 confirmed cases of plague in humans between 1900 and 2010. Most of these occurred in rural areas of northern New Mexico, northern Arizona, southern Colorado, California and southern Oregon. IScience Times reports that the last major outbreak in the U.S. occurred in Los Angeles between 1924 and 1925. Thirty-seven people were killed over a two-month period.

The last major bubonic plague outbreak was in 2010 in Peru, when 12 people were infected.

The bubonic plague is an infection caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria, which lives in the gut of fleas. Fleas infected with the bacteria live on the bodies of small mammals, such as rats or even squirrels. When an infected flea bites a human, the bacteria is transmitted through the bite wound.

Symptoms of bubonic plague infection in humans include fever, weakness, abdominal pain, chills and internal bleeding. Their lymph nodes become especially swollen, painful and tender. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if left untreated, the bubonic plague can be deadly. But antibiotics have greatly reduced the mortality rate of the disease.

Read more from iScience Times:

Plague In Squirrels Prompts Calif. Campground Closure After Rodent Tests Positive For Bubonic Infection [VIDEO]

Caterpillar Invasion: London Street Plagued By Bird-Cherry Ermines [VIDEO]

Plague Of Locusts: Is Madagascar In Danger?

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