You might want to hold off your plans to visit Madagascar. An outbreak of the bubonic plague has killed 40 people and infected nearly 80 others on the Indian Ocean island, the World Health Organization reported.
Since August, there have been 119 confirmed cases of the bacterial infection, which is spread through fleas on small rodents, typically rats. People who are bitten by an infected flea develop swollen lymph nodes and other symptoms like chills, gangrene, and seizures; symptoms appear suddenly, usually 2–5 days after exposure to the bacteria.
If diagnosed early, the plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
The first known case in the outbreak was a man in a Soamahatamana village in the district of Tsiroanomandidy, about 200km west of capital city Antananarivo. Presently, two cases – one of them fatal – have been confirmed in Antananarivo, worsening the situation.
“There is now a risk of a rapid spread of the disease due to the city’s high population density and the weakness of the healthcare system,” the World Health Organization said.
“The situation is further complicated by the high level of resistance to deltamethrin (an insecticide used to control fleas) that has been observed in the country.”
Two percent of the country’s reported plague cases were pneumonic and can be spread person-to-person by coughing – this form of the plague is “one of the most deadly infectious diseases,” according to the organization.
“WHO does not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available,” the organization warned.
“The national task force has been activated to manage the outbreak. With support from partners – including WHO, the Pasteur Institute of Madagascar, the ‘Commune urbaine d’Antananarivo’ and the Red Cross – the government of Madagascar has put in place effective strategies to control the outbreak.”
The first recorded epidemic of the bubonic plague ravaged the Byzantine Empire during the sixth century and is estimated to have killed 50 million people in the Roman Empire alone. Then in the Late Middle Ages – 1347- Europe experienced the most deadly disease outbreak in history when the Black Death, the infamous pandemic of bubonic plague, killed a third of the human population.
The last previously known outbreak of the plague was in Peru in August 2010.