(AP) -- A blockade around a remote northwest Chinese town where deadly pneumonic plague killed three people and sickened nine was lifted after no new infections were reported, an official said Sunday.
The blockade of Ziketan in an ethnically Tibetan area in Qinghai province ended Saturday night after 10 days, said a government spokesman who would only give his surname, Wang.
Police had set up checkpoints around the farming town of 10,000 people, sealing it off to prevent the spread of the disease that can kill in as few as 24 hours if left untreated.
Wang said nine patients were recovering and in stable condition though they were required to stay for five days in a hospital for observation. Another 332 people quarantined for having "direct or indirect contact" with the patients were released.
The outbreak, first detected July 30, killed three people who were neighbors. Most of the other sickened people were relatives of the first victim, a 32-year-old herdsman who became ill after burying his dog.
China has had previous cases of plague, a disease that circulates mainly among small animals like rats and mice but can also infect humans. Experts have said most cases in China's northwest occur when hunters are contaminated while skinning infected animals.
Pneumonic plague is the least common and most deadly form of the disease. It can be directly spread between humans since the bacteria is airborne and can easily be inhaled by those in close contact with infected patients. But if treated early with antibiotics, it is curable.
©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Explore further: Indoor air pollution tied to asthma, asthma-related symptoms