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Tuesday, August 10, 1999 Published at 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

Boy dies of bubonic plague

Infections have been reported in areas around the Aral Sea

A teenage boy has died of bubonic plague in Kazakhstan after reportedly being bitten by a flea.


The BBC's Louise Hildago: ''This is the eighth reported outbreak this year''
Ruslan Shunayev fell ill while working on a family farm in the Kyzyl-Orda region near the Aral Sea, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Doctors in Aralsk were unable to save him from the bacterial illness which is spread by fleas from infected rats. The region is currently suffering an infestation of fleas.

The head of public health in the Kyzyl-Orda region, Damir Dauletbayev, said: "A boy died in the village of Bokaysay after falling ill from septic bubonic plague, which strikes people down with lightning speed."


[ image:  ]
The anti-plague Institute in the former capital, Alma Ata, said 18 people had been in contact with the boy and had been put into quarantine.

None so far have shown signs of having contracted the disease.

Health officials say this is the eighth outbreak of bubonic plague in Kazakhstan this year but it is the first time in almost a decade that someone has died from it.

The country is impoverished and does not have the resources to deal with largescale health problems. The flea infestation follows a plague of locusts earlier in the summer.

Infected camel meat

Our Central Asia correspondent Louise Hidalgo reports that a thousand kilograms of chemical disinfectants are being sent to the small village close to the Aral Sea where the dead boy lived.


[ image:  ]
Last week three people were admitted to hospital with the disease after eating infected camel meat in the western district of Mangistauz.

The outbreak co-incided with an invasion of fleas in the nearby city of Aktau - so intense that it lead the local authorities to announce a state of emergency.

The plague has always been endemic across large swathes of this vast country which is home to 15 million people, but it has usually been kept in check with drugs and vacccines.

Kazakh officials are adamant that the situation this year is also under control but they admit that shortage of money - both for treatment and to cope with these new infestations - is a real problem.

Kazakhstan is a desperately poor country where many people can no longer afford the medicines they must now pay for, or even to travel to towns to seek treatment.

In recent years diseases like tuberculois, meningitis and diphtheria have been making a comeback.

Vaccine limited

In the 14th Century an outbreak of bubonic plague spread across Asia and Europe, killing more than 25 million people. Once victims contracted the illness there was a 75% chance that they would die.

There are a variety of symptoms. The lymph nodes swell with puss, and blood vessels break under the skin causing internal bleeding and turning the skin black - hence the name black death.

There is a vaccine against the disease but it is of limited use in an epidemic because it requires several weeks to become effective and the immunity lasts less than six months.

The World Health Organisation reported 108 plague deaths from 1,768 cases in 1992. It is easily treated if diagnosed at an early stage.





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