16 October 2017

Madagascar Battles Pneumonic Plague Epidemic

Photo: Paulina Zidi/RFI
An area close to the city center of Antananarivo, Madagascar.

The island of Madagascar has been experiencing annual plague outbreaks since 1980. This year however, a worse form of plague, pneumonic plague has hit the country and it has health officials battling to contain it.

The island of Madagascar has been hit by pneumonic plague, which has left at least 42 people dead and 343 people infected. The plague has hit major cities in the country and has spread to Seychelles.

Pneumonic plague, is a severe lung infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, and the symptoms include fever, headache, shortness of breath, chest pain, and cough. It is fatal if left untreated, and it is said to be the most lethal form of plague. The plague is transmitted from rats to humans by fleas. Other forms of plague include bubonic and septicaemic. Bubonic plague is spread by infected rats via flea bite, pneumonic by person-to-person transmission. The current outbreak includes both forms of plague. Nearly half of the cases identified so far are of pneumonic plague.

Comparisons have been drawn between the plague outbreak in Madagascar and the Great Plague of 1665. The Great Plague killed an estimated 100,000 people, almost a quarter of London's population.

The treatment for pneumonic plague is antibiotics and the World Health Organization (WHO) has delivered 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and released $1.5 million to fight the outbreak.

Dr. Charlotte Ndiaye the WHO Representative in Madagascar said the "Plague is curable if detected in time. Our teams are working to ensure that everyone at risk has access to protection and treatment. The faster we move, the more lives we save."

The plague started in August this year. Despite WHO's advice against flight restriction on Madagascar, Air Seychelles suspended its flights to Madagascar temporarily.

WHO has distributed medicines to health facilities and mobile health clinics. It has also partnered with the Ministry of Health to train local health workers on how to identify, care for patients and trace people who have had close contact with symptomatic patients so that they may be given protective treatment.

According to a WHO release, Plague is endemic to Madagascar, where around 400 cases of - mostly bubonic - plague are reported annually. Contrary to past outbreaks, this one is affecting large urban areas, which increases the risk of transmission. The number of cases identified thus far is higher than expected for this time of year.

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