China Authorities Suppress Incident of the Plague

China mobilizes people all over the world the Caribbean as part of a hegemonist geopolitical strategy. The story enclosed exposes how authorities in China attempted to coverup an occurrence of one of the most infectious diseases known to mankind.

Thanks Kammie Holder for bringing to the blogmaster’s attention.

The Real Reason to Panic About China’s Plague Outbreak

It’s not the disease that’s worrisome—it’s the Chinese government’s response to it.

A H7N9 bird flu patient is treated in a hospital in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province, on Feb 12, 2017.

A H7N9 bird flu patient is treated in a hospital in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province, on Feb 12, 2017. STR/AFP via Getty Images

The Chinese government’s response to this month’s outbreak of plague has been marked by temerity and some fear, which history suggests is entirely appropriate. But not all fear is the same, and Beijing seems to be afraid of the wrong things. Rather than being concerned about the germs and their spread, the government seems mostly motivated by a desire to manage public reaction about the disease. Those efforts, however, have failed—and the public’s response is now veering toward a sort of plague-inspired panic that’s not at all justified by the facts.

On Nov. 3, Li Jifeng, a doctor at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, the capital’s key infectious diseases treatment and quarantine center, attended to a middle-aged man who was struggling to breathe and his wife, who was also running a high fever and likewise gasping for air. The couple had been ailing for at least 10 days by the time Li saw them. They had initially sought care some 250 miles north of China’s capital in Inner Mongolia, a frigid cold region that straddles the borders of China, Mongolia, and North Korea, before being sent to Beijing for observation.

So far, so good, for China’s response. More ominous, however, was what happened next. Li’s WeChat social media posting describing the couple was quickly deleted. Meanwhile, the government officially informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about the cases, as it was required to do, but only on Nov. 13—after they were already reported by journalists around the world.

If the goal was to avoid stirring panic at home, the effect may have been the opposite. In the absence of clarifying, calming information from their government, Chinese people have been venting fear and concern on Weibo and other social media platforms. Their fear may be fueled by the role played by Chaoyang Hospital, which Beijing residents remember well from the 2003 SARS epidemic, when the authorities hid victims of that epidemic in the hospital, denying for weeks that the virus had even reached Beijing.

Amid the growing panic about the plague, the irony is that it far outstrips the real risks. Despite its devastating impact on human history, Yersinia pestis need not inspire fear or death in 2019. That it still causes the latter in the age of antibiotics is proof of public health and political failures, not to the inherent virulence of the microbe. That it causes the former is mostly due to misunderstandings about the relevant history.

There have been three great plague pandemics in human history caused by the bacterium Y. pestis, spreading from Siberia and Mongolia, across Asia, and into Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The first began in A.D. 541 within the Roman Empire, lasted two centuries, and was dubbed the Justinianic Plague. The second, the Black Death, spread from Asia into Italy in 1346 and persisted for 400 years, infecting most of the European population with such devastating outcome—50 million people died on a continent then inhabited by 80 million—that for centuries historians referred to it as the Great Mortality. The third pandemic began in the 1850s in China, spreading across Asia with such ferocity that India, alone, lost 20 million people.

Since the invention of antibiotics, the threat of a fourth pneumonic plague pandemic has dissipated, but the microbe continues to evoke profound public fear. For example, in 1994 I was in the Gujarat epicenter of a pneumonic plague epidemic in India, where the actual numbers of laboratory-confirmed infections were relatively small. But panic sparked a national hysteria in which every cough and fever seen from the Himalayas to the beaches of Goa were diagnosed as plague, filling hospital beds nationwide, causing a run on antibiotics, and spawning dark conspiracy theories about Pakistani, American, and Russian bioterrorism.

From 2010 to 2015, there were 3,248 plague cases reported worldwide, with 584 deaths. Those numbers jumped with the Madagascar outbreaks in 2017 and 2018. Tragically, modern plague epidemics too often go unrecognized, and individuals are left untreated until Y. pestis has so devastated the human body that antibiotics cannot reverse the damage to the lungs, kidneys, and cardiovascular system. Then, according to WHO, fatality rates are between 30 and 100 percent, with blood (septicemia) and pneumonic cases having the highest death rates. Which of the three forms of plague an individual will experience—bubonic, pneumonic, or septicemic—is usually determined by how the person was initially infected. The milder bubonic form is usually the result of bites from Y. pestis-carrying fleas. More dangerous pneumonic plague is inhaled, typically from the coughs of another infected person, and swiftly spreads inside the lungs to cause life-threatening pneumonia. And the very rare septicemic form, which is almost always fatal when untreated, occurs when plague bacteria enter the bloodstream, sometimes through an opening in the skin, rapidly spreading throughout the body.

Since 1990, the African island nation of Madagascar has suffered bubonic and pneumonic plague outbreaks every year, occurring seasonally between late August and March, with an annual average of 200 cases, about a quarter of which prove fatal. In 2017, the so-called “black year,” Madagascar recorded more than 2,400 cases, with 200 deaths, despite the bacteria’s vulnerability to antibiotics. The seasonality of the disease in Madagascar is likely linked to surges in the island’s rat population during heavy rains. Some scientists think that plague’s life cycle in rodents and fleas will be affected by climate change, leading to increased outbreaks amid global warming, but the picture is complex and heavily debated.

The bacteria are endemic across much of Mongolia and the former Soviet countries in central Asia. As part of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, more than 1.5 billion rats were killed in huge peasant campaigns in hopes of eradicating plague. During the mid-20th century, the Soviets conducted hundreds of programs, employing tens of thousands of people in hopes of eliminating the rodents and fleas that carry Y. pestis—all without lasting success.

In late April, a Mongolian couple contracted plague near Ulgii, not far from the Russian border, after eating the raw meat of an infected marmot—a squirrel-like animal that burrows in the steppes. A quarantine was put in place after the couple’s deaths, when lab results confirmed the couple had the plague, and nearly 150 people were isolated or quarantined, including airplane passengers arriving from the region in Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital. The couple, according to local health authorities, died of multiple organ failure caused by septicemic plague.

Russia for decades has claimed invention of a successful plague vaccine, but it has never been available to the rest of the world, and its efficacy is dubious, according to Paul Mead, the chief of the Bacterial Diseases Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Fort Collins, Colorado. Several antibiotics are very effective in lieu of a vaccine, taken to prevent infection—chiefly, doxycycline and fluoroquinolones. The drugs very successfully treat infection if they are administered within the first hours after infection. It is also easy to prevent person-to-person transmission of Y. pestis with hand-washing and use of basic face masks. But without these inexpensive measures in place—low-cost prophylactic antibiotics, hand hygiene, and masking—the bacteria can be very contagious with proximity to a coughing victim of pneumonic plague.

Lowering the risks, however, requires transparency on the part of public health authorities. China’s National Health Commission has assured WHO, according to an agency spokesperson, that a robust effort is underway to find and monitor all individuals who have been in contact with the Beijing couple, both in Inner Mongolia and during their travel to Beijing. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, modeled closely after the U.S. CDC, has indeed proved skilled in disease surveillance. But given the Chinese government’s public health history—covering up the 2003 SARS epidemic even as it traveled to 30 other nations, denying the spread of the dangerous H5N1 influenza in the country for years, and stifling social media accounts of outbreaks—a fair amount of caution and skepticism is merited.

Laurie Garrett is a former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer.

20 thoughts on “China Authorities Suppress Incident of the Plague

  1. Market Place, a Canadian News Program over the weekend had a program on the plague. It stated that the US had several hundred cases over the past few years. I tuned in late and did not get the numbers for Canada.

  2. What the Chinese have done in the case of the plague is nothing new when countries weigh economics into the equation. It is also done in Barbados. The article below gives an example of what normally happens when bureaucracies get involve. One also has to input the natural reticence of Asians to understand the cover up.

    NOV 15, 2019
    The First Time the Plague Broke Out in the US, Officials Tried to Deny It. The National Library of Medicine

    “At the turn of the 20th century, the world was gripped by a plague pandemic that had spread from China to port cities around the globe. So when a 41-year-old San Franciscan named Wong Chut King died of a particularly violent disease in March 1900, there were worries that the pandemic had finally reached U.S. soil.
    After examining samples from King’s autopsy, the head of the city’s Marine Hospital Service confirmed those fears: the plague had come to America. And unfortunately, it never left.

    King’s death marked the beginning of the United States’ first plague epidemic, which infected at least 280 people and killed at least 172 over the next eight years (the actual numbers of cases and deaths may be higher). The disease was likely introduced by rat–infested steamships arriving at California’s shores from affected areas, mostly from Asia. But instead of alerting the public, city and state officials—including the governor of California—denied there was any plague outbreak at all.

    The Plague Presented a Threat to California’s Economy
    Group portrait of health workers with brooms, sprinkling cans, axes, hoses, rakes, shovels and other equipment used to destroy rat habitation areas, standing in front of the storeroom (on left) and U.S. Public Health Marine Hospital Service District Headquarters during the San Francisco plague campaign.
    Group portrait of health workers with brooms, sprinkling cans, axes, hoses, rakes, shovels and other equipment used to destroy rat habitation areas, standing in front of the storeroom (on left) and U.S. Public Health Marine Hospital Service District Headquarters during the San Francisco plague campaign.

    The National Library of Medicine

    The reason for this cover-up was partly economic. There was a fear in San Francisco and the state capital of Sacramento that if news of the plague spread, it would hurt California’s economy, says Marilyn Chase, a lecturer at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and author of The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco.

    “There was a very real threat that California’s $40 million fresh produce industry…would be lost,” she says. With that in mind, “the state actually appealed to and secured the collaboration of the surgeon general of the United States” to keep word of the disease silent.

    Official silence about the disease also entailed undermining Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun, the head of the Marine Hospital Service in San Francisco who had identified the plague bacteria in King’s body. As a public health official, he was determined to stop the disease from spreading. At the same time, local politicians, business owners and newspapers were determined to discredit him, says David K. Randall, a reporter for Reuters and author of Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America from the Bubonic Plague.

    “You had the local newspapers calling [Kinyoun] a fake, calling him suspicious, implying that he was just trying to take money from the public coffers and this was all a big scam,” he says. These newspapers even suggested “he was injecting dead bodies with plague so that he looked like a hero.” Business leaders and politicians echoed this rhetoric. “A state senator in Sacramento stood on the senate floor and said that Kinyoun should be hanged for what he was doing,” he says.

    New Field of Medical Science Met With Skepticism
    Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun.

    National Institutes of Health History Office/Flickr Creative Commons

    This large-scale denial of the plague was also, in part, a rejection of a new type of science that few understood. Kinyoun, who is now known as the father of the National Institutes of Health, was at the forefront of the field of medical bacteriology. Unlike doctors from an earlier era, Kinyoun used a microscope to study microorganisms his patients couldn’t see. California Governor Henry Gage was particularly averse to this new science.

    “[Gage] basically said: If you can’t see the disease, if you can’t see what’s happening, then how do I know it exists?” Randall says. And like many others in California, Gage wasn’t even sure white people could get the plague in the first place. “The idea was that if your ancestors had survived the plague in Europe, then you somehow evolved immunity,” he says.

    Contrary to this misguided belief, the plague did infect white San Franciscans; but in the beginning, it hit residents of Chinatown the hardest. Many white residents initially remained unconcerned since they attributed the outbreak to the racist perception that Chinese immigrants were disease-ridden and dirty. Residents of Chinatown, in turn, sometimes hid the bodies of plague victims to prevent further discrimination against their community.

    “People [in Chinatown] were desperate to keep it confidential, and there were very good reasons for this,” Chase says. After the first confirmed plague death, “there was a blockade against Chinatown, at which time people could not go to work, they could not get goods in or out. The people were hungry.” There was a real fear that the discovery of more plague victims would lead to more quarantines or building-burning, a crude method of fighting disease.

    READ MORE: Bugs of War: How Insects Have Been Weaponized Through History

    Knowledge of the plague outbreak eventually managed to spread outside of California. Out-of-state newspapers picked up news of the outbreak a few weeks after King’s death, and Kinyoun sent federal officials regular memos about the plague’s escalation. Just as California’s political and business leaders had feared, states threatened to cut off trade with California to prevent the plague from spreading.

    Still, California leaders stuck to their story. In a letter to the U.S. secretary of state cosigned by San Francisco jeans magnate Levi Strauss, Governor Gage blamed Kinyoun for the “plague fake,” as he called it, and claimed San Francisco had “never seen a living case of plague.” A year after the first plague victim died, Gage successfully convinced the federal government to relocate Kinyoun to Detroit. By then, there were about 100 known deaths from the plague.

    Group portrait of P.A. Surgeon Rupert Blue (first row, fourth from right), members of his staff, and three men in civilian clothes, standing in front of the San Francisco Plague Suppressive Headquarters at Filmore & Page Sts. in San Francisco, California during the San Francisco plague campaign.

    The National Library of Medicine

    The man who replaced Kinyoun as head of the Marine Hospital Service in San Francisco was Dr. Rupert Blue. Though he too faced resistance in fighting the plague, he had advantages over Kinyoun. He was better at communicating scientific and medical information to the public, and also better at earning the trust of the city’s Chinese community.

    Blue helped end the outbreak with initiatives to clean the city and eradicate its rats, whose fleas were infecting humans with the plague. By 1908, San Francisco was essentially plague-free, and California newspapers reported this news even though they’d previously denied the plague’s existence.

    The Plague Persists in the United States
    Two men dissecting rats believed to be spreading the plague.

    The National Library of Medicine

    However, this didn’t mean the plague had left the country. The United States still reports an average of seven human plague cases each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost all of these cases occur in the western United States. In the summer of 2019, reports of prairie dogs with plague-carrying fleas forced parts of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge to shut down.

    In reporting for her book, Chase learned that scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Fort Collins believe the strain that now exists throughout the west originates from the strain that was first carried to U.S. shores by ship rats around 1900.

    Chase says, “It was very likely the delay in controlling the San Francisco plague” allowed it to spread—and persist.


  3. Barbadians are exposed to danger when people who live in areas where such diseases are endemic visit our shores. There is a need to strictly monitor or refuse entry of persons from such areas.

  4. @ David
    It is claimed so. The question one needs to address is how effective is the screening process. Let us assume someone came from northern Nigeria. All the health documents are ostensibly in order. If accepted on face value and the holder is allowed entry severe repercussions may result. Let me be very frank. a lot of counterfeit documents are associated Nigeria( this is a fact, you may hear a lot of bs that Nigeria is being shown in a bad light). The same under-hand activities are also associated with places like Pakistan. These countries have several contagious infective diseases. If a carrier( has the contagious organism present in his/her body but doesn’t show symptoms) of one of these diseases (TB for example) is allowed in, an outbreak of TB is highly likely. Polio has been eradicated in Barbados but not in the above mentioned countries: imagine what would happen if a carrier of polio is allowed in. What should really happen is that visitors from these countries should be held in isolation until verified by testing to disease free.. Of course to do so would affect the sensitivity of some.

  5. Even with the most sophisticated border crossing information system WHICH BARBADOS DOES NOT HAVE, and even America does not have, any disease, from the simplest flu to bubonic plague WILL WREAK HAVOC IN AND AMONG THE COMMUNITIES THAT THEY DEVELOP IN.

    COUPLE THIS with the drivers of any economy with its intrinsic need to effect trade and other outreaches with individual, corporate and governmental interactions daily AND WE ARE LEFT WITH AN EQUATION WHICH SAYS, disease or no disease, we trading.

    So the needs of the many – the people, THOUGH DECIDED ON BY THE FEW – those generally elected by the people, override the needs of the many, because the few, WHILE OSTENSIBLY REPRESENTING THE NEEDS OF THE MANY, have no choice but to sacrifice A FEW OF THAT SAME MANY, so that THE MANY dont die.

    Quite simply put, to bake a cake, you got to crack a few eggs!

    So until so type of future technology is developed, that either destroys the disease matrix, or managed its containment, at source, or permits other countries to detect and isolate human or other carriers e.g. rats, birds etc., all these diseases will perforce continue to impact and sometimes decimate populations exposed to the diseases

    So, desirable future technologies would possibly be something like a mobile scanning system that non invasively cleans the surface of any person on thing that passes through its rays or will scan a subject, detect and then permit the removal of the whatever infection.

    We are really at the mercy of persons who, being infected, report that infection, and those in authority who, once they become aware, manage the containment AND ADVISE OTHERS ABOUT THE DISEASE and vectors that might have been exposed and are now in the recipient of the shared information’s jurisdiction.

    Why would the Ghanaian government tell Barbados that, post its delegation coming to Barbados, one of its delegation fell I’ll with the bubonic plague?

    You understand the implication of that disclosure?

    CHINA IS NO DIFFERENT REALLY and what it does mean is that any government MUST BE VIGILANT & PROACTIVE in its health and disease monitoring at its borders.

  6. @ TLSN November 18, 2019 6:45 PM

    You are correct. DNA analysis of the microbe determined the source to be Nepal. The UN has been trying to refute the claims. The UN is simply a talk shop with most delegates being sycophants to some political organization in an effort to secure sinecure.

  7. Who or what runs this theatre here on earth? Isreal, USA, UK , EU , China, chump, netty , BJ? Do these entities really exist or is this all implanted into our unprotected grey matter?

  8. @? “after eating the raw meat of an infected marmot”

    I honestly did not know that there are humans who eat raw rodents.

    That said according to the United States Center for Disease Control there is also endemic plague in the United States

    “Over 80% of United States plague cases have been the bubonic form. In recent decades, an average of seven human plague cases have been reported each year (range: 1–17 cases per year). Plague has occurred in people of all ages (infants up to age 96), though 50% of cases occur in people ages 12–45. It occurs in both men and women, though historically is slightly more common among men, probably because of increased outdoor activities that put them at higher risk.”

    But nobody is suggesting (nor should we) that we quarantine the tens of thousands of people who visit from the United States every year.
    Morbidity and mortality Weekly Report

  9. Suppose the diagnosis was based on symptoms and not pathogen identification? There seems to be no re-analysis of these cases since Covid19 erupted. Suppose the plague was misdiagnosed, and the “pneumonia of unknown origin” was actually the emergence of Covid19? Where did the Beijing patients, and all of thei contacts that were quarantined, go after leaving Beijing?

  10. David, this is amazing reading after the fact. I never saw this blog previously…and in lovely 20-20 the views of the scientist Doc Lucas blares like the loudest siren :“There is a need to strictly monitor or refuse entry of persons from such areas.[…] It is claimed so [re a screening process]. The question one needs to address is how effective is the screening process.”

    We can now say.. not very any country. Again, WHY were the more strategically strong nations caught so flat-fitted on this…

    … if a microbiologist in Bdos could say that so early then many of his scientific colleagues world over would have said the same…yet basically nothing was done until 2 months later in late Jan (in US and even later in others).

    This is a mind boggling (numbing) situation as many have said… we all now have to look much more closely at folks like @Greenmonkey and others who push the ‘deep state’ investigations!

    • @Dee Word

      Not disrespect to you may have conditioned ourselves to read every thing with an open mind read leave the blinkers at the door.

  11. And with a laugh to your point about the govt acting as best as they could…this particular blog only had 15 comments…no one paid attention to this at the time….NO ONE…

    So you are right @David🤣🤣…give the govt a break!

    NOT….Govt are elected to see things the citizens neglect and make the hard decisions to protect us from ourselves, not so!

    Interesting early catch by you and team tho. 👍🏿

    • @Dee Word

      The blog, the country, the world would be a better place if we looked to the horizon and imagine what is possible.

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