Parts of a city in northwest China have been sealed off after a death from bubonic plague, according to state media, but some Western experts aren't sure we're getting the full story. Reports from China say the city of Yumen, population around 100,000, was split into quarantine zones after a 38-year-old man died from the plague, Reuters finds. He had apparently contracted it from a marmot, a wild rodent in the squirrel family. Some 151 people he came into contact with have been quarantined, but none have shown signs of the disease.
Since the plague is treatable with antibiotics and (in this victim's case) can't be transmitted from person to person unless it develops into pneumonic plague, the Chinese response appears extreme to outside observers. "I feel there's something here that we don't know, because this seems a very expansive response to just one case," a professor of infectious diseases tells LiveScience. "I'm very puzzled at the circumstances here, and what the actual hazard is," he says. On its website, Beijing's disease control center reassures people that there's no chance of the disease spreading to the city. There are still thousands of cases around the world every year, but China, like the US, usually only has a handful of cases. This month, a man in Colorado was diagnosed with plague; officials believe he caught it from his dog. (Read more China stories.)