A Russian couple died in Mongolia from suspected bubonic plague, sparking a panic aboard a plane and forcing authorities to place the border under “indefinite quarantine,” leaving tourists stranded, according to reports.
“Preliminary test results show that bubonic plague likely caused the deaths of the two people,” according to the emergency management department in Bayan-Ulgii province, the Siberian Times reported.
Dramatic photographs show workers in hazmat suits walking along the aisle of an airliner at the airport in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar. The flight arrived from Bayan, Uglii and Khovd.
The team from the National Center of Communicable Diseases checked the 160 passengers for signs of infection.
All the passengers from Ulgii were sent to a hospital for observation, while the others were examined near the airport.
The domestic Mongolian carrier Hunnu Air grounded all flights to the region until Saturday.
The Russian couple — a 38-year-old man and his 37-year-old pregnant wife — reportedly fell ill after hunting and eating contaminated marmot, a large species of squirrel, in Mongolia, according to the reports.
The man died April 27 and his wife died three days later, leaving behind four kids.
“Despite the fact that eating marmots is banned, Citizen T hunted marmot,” Dr. N. Tsogbadrakh, director of the National Center for Zoonotic Dermatology and Medicine, told the Siberian Times, using the man’s designation.
“He ate the meat and gave it to his wife, and they died because the plague affected his stomach. Four children are orphaned,” he added.
A total of 158 people who came into either direct or indirect contact with the couple are “under supervision.”
Russian tourists from Siberia and the Urals were left stranded when a major border crossing was closed amid suspicion it was related to the frightening outbreak.
At least nine tourists sought help from the Russian consulate.
The extremely contagious bacterial disease is spread by fleas living on wild rodents. It can kill an adult in under 24 hours if not treated in time, according to the World Health Organization.
The plague is believed to be the cause of the Black Death that spread through Asia, Europe and Africa in the 14th century, killing about 50 million people.
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