The common belief among Americans is that plagues don’t happen anymore. But there is a plague still happening in Madagascar. This year’s outbreak killed almost 170 people already, and it has some experts concerned about the future!
Two-thirds of the plague cases recorded in Madagascar have been pneumonic, the deadliest type, and it is being called the worst plague in half a century. The country usually sees around 400 cases of plague per year. But that figure rose to 2,000 cases already, and the plague season is just getting started.
The disease spreads via spitting, sneezing, coughing, or otherwise coming into contact with bodily fluids of infected people. This plague is related to the infamous Black Death that killed 200 million people across Asia and Europe in the 1300s.
Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia health protection, thinks the disease has potential to reach Europe and also North America, just like what we saw with Ebola following the outbreak in West Africa three years ago. He emphasized that this plaque has a possibility of mutating and becoming untreatable.
The World Health Organization’s Dr. Charlotte Ndiaye announced: “WHO is concerned that plague could spread further because it is already present in several cities and this is the start of the epidemic season, which usually runs from September to April.”
Pneumonic plague could become fatal when left untreated. However, antibiotics can manage it when detected early. In the current outbreak, fatalities rose by 15 percent in three days, prompting concerns that it is reaching crisis levels.
Ten countries are now on high alert due to the outbreak, with Malawi, Seychelles, South Africa, Kenya, Reunion, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Mauritius, Comoros and also Madagascar. Specialists say that if it goes from the island to mainland Africa, it could become difficult to control.
In previous years when the plague was mostly confined to remote areas, but this year’s outbreak is concentrated in the country’s two biggest cities, Antananarivo and Toamasina, which could pose a significant problem.
A WHO spokesperson announced that it is impossible to rule out the possibility of more cases as the plague season has just started and it will not end until April. The WHO is urging people to remain vigilant because the risk of further spread throughout Madagascar remains high.
The many flights and ferries that go between the island and the African mainland give concerns about travelers carrying it to different areas. However, the incubation period of the pneumonic variety is short, meaning most sufferers become ill far too soon to travel far and spread the plague. Furthermore, exit screening rules have been implemented in Madagascar, and nearby countries are also taking precautions.
Universities and schools have been closed to try to contain the disease as it spreads faster among children. The buildings have been sprayed to exterminate any fleas that may or may not carry the plague.
Many of the local population is scared of hospitals and feels hesitant to seek treatment. Also, they need to walk more than a day to be able to get treatment. This predicament means there could be more cases going unreported as patients fail to receive a proper examination.
Health authorities are not sure how this year’s outbreak began, but researchers assume that forest fires could have made the rats, which carry the Yersinia pestis bacteria, to travel into rural areas. The rats and their fleas bite people and infect them, and when left without treatment, the bubonic strain goes to the lungs and becomes the pneumonic form that can kill people within 24 hours.