Mongolian couple dies of bubonic plague after eating raw rodent meat, sparking massive quarantine

A Mongolian couple recently died of the bubonic plague after eating raw marmot kidney, setting off a quarantine that trapped tourists in the country's western Bayan Olgii province for almost a week, according to the BBC

The couple ate the marmot — a type of giant ground squirrel found mostly in North America and Eurasia — under the impression that doing so would bring them good health. The pair died on May 1, triggering a six-day quarantine that prevented tourists from leaving the region. 

As many as 118 people, including foreign tourists from Switzerland, Sweden, Kazakhstan and South Korea, came into contact with the couple, Ariuntuya Ochirpurev, a World Health Organization official based in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, told the British broadcaster. They were isolated and treated with antibiotics for prophylaxis, a preventive measure against disease. 

Other reports stated that there were also tourists from Russia and Germany that were prohibited from leaving as a result of the quarantine. 

"After the quarantine [was announced], not many people, even locals, were in the streets for fear of catching the disease," Sebastian Pique, a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in the region, told AFP.

Though authorities have warned people against eating raw marmot meat due to a plague-causing bacteria it carries, some still do because consumption of the meat has been long heralded as a folk remedy, according to Channel News Asia

A report by the National Center for Zoonotic Disease notes that at least one person dies of the plague in Mongolia every year, although the disease has been a serious threat throughout human history. 

RELATED: Learn more about the bubonic plague: 

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Bubonic plague through history
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Bubonic plague through history
Yersinia Pestis Bacteria Causes Bubonic Plague In Animals And Humans And Usually Is Transmitted By The Bite Of Infected Rat Fleas. Illustration Based On Light Microscope Image At 1000X. (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 2003: Yersinia pestis (formerly Pasteurella pestis), the bubonic plague bacterium, seen under a microscope. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 12: This European amulet, which features a representation of the Virgin Mary on the obverse, would have been worn as protection against catching the plague. The plague is caused by infection with Yersinia Pestis, carried by fleas that infest rodents which then bite humans. The plague is thought to have originated from the Eastern provinces of China, and travelled along the well established Silk Road through the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, before reaching southern Italy in 1347 and the rest of Europe soon after. Also known as the bubonic plague and the Black Death, it killed one third of the population of Europe. Outbreaks of the plague continued to occur in Europe until the 17th century. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 21: This pomander, with a rat engraved on its side, contains six compartments and has a chain for suspension. It was probably carried as a protector against the plague. Pomanders were popular in Medieval times. They contained sweet-smelling herbs and spices and were believed to ward off infections carried by foul-smelling air. Regular outbreaks of bubonic plague, a disease transmitted from rats to people by fleas, occurred in Medieval times and continued until the 17th century. The most notable plague outbreak was the Black Death of the 14th century, which originated in China, and is estimated to have killed a third of the population of Europe. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 04: A metal cautery for cauterising plague buboes (a swollen inflamed lymph node in the armpit, neck or groin). Cautery irons were heated until red-hot like branding irons, and applied to burn and seal bleeding areas, such as buboes, skin ulcers or amputation stumps. The long handle allowed the physician to keep his distance from the patient. Regular outbreaks of bubonic plague, a disease transmitted from rats to people by fleas, occurred in Medieval times and continued until the 17th century. The most notable plague outbreak was the Black Death of the 14th century, which originated in China, and is estimated to have killed a third of the population of Europe. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Early Nineteenth Century engraving of a black rat similar to that which carried the fleas that spread the bubonic plague in crowded urban areas during the Great Plague of London, an outbreak which killed some 70, 000 persons. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Plague (19th century depiction), Bubonic plague is a zoonotic disease, circulating mainly among small rodents and their fleas. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images)
Plague (19th century depiction), Bubonic plague is a zoonotic disease, circulating mainly among small rodents and their fleas. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images)
Nineteenth Century English engraving of ghastly scene of Death Cart empyting corpses into a mass grave or Plague Pit at night during the Great Plague of London, an outbreak of bubonic plague which killed some 70, 000 persons. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Victims of the Black Death being buried at Tournai, then part of the Netherlands, 1349. The Black Death was thought to have been an outbreak of the bubonic plague, which killed up to half the population of Europe. From the 'Chronique et Annales de Gilles le Muisit'. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
People praying for relief from the bubonic plague, circa 1350. Original Artwork: Designed by E Corbould, lithograph by F Howard. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Late Eighteenth Century (?) English engraving of grief stricken mourners among the dead and dying in the streets of London during the Great Plague, an outbreak of bubonic plague which killed some 70, 000 persons. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
A plague hospital in Vienna during the Great Plague of Vienna, Austria, 1679. The disease, thought to be the bubonic plague, claimed around 76,000 lives. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Filling a mass grave at night during the Plague of London, c 1665. Showing a group of men with torches in a churchyard, preparing to empty the contents of a covered cart into an open grave. The Plague, also known as the Black Death, was a disease caused by Yersinia Pestis, an infection carried by fleas living as parasites on rats. The Plague hit London in late 1664, having ravaged Holland the previous year, and killed around 100,000 people in and around the city. The dead were collected at night and thrown into common burial graves. (Photo by Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images)
An inscription on a wall of Ashwell Church, Hertfordshire, written during the epidemic of plague that swept through Europe in the middle of the 14th century known as the Black Death, May 1979. (Photo By RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)
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The first recorded pandemic, otherwise known as the Justinian Plague, began in the sixth century and killed more than 25 million people across the Mediterranean basin over the next 200 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The largest pandemic — or the Black Plague — began in China in 1334 and spread to Europe, where it wiped out nearly 60 percent of the continent's population. 

The third major pandemic, called the Modern Plague, also originated in China in the 1860s and killed nearly 10 million people.

Similar, smaller-scale plagues occurred in India during the early 1900s and in Vietnam during the 1960s and '70s. 

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