New reports show airborne plague epidemic now threatening Africa

Published:  1 Nov at 6 PM
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A new report on the plague outbreak in Madagascar notes nine African countries now in danger from the deadly bacterium.

According to a World Health Organisation report, over 1,300 cases of plague have now been confirmed, with some 66 per cent being the deadliest pneumonic form, spread in the air by sneezing and coughing. The disease can kill within one full day after infection, and African nations near the affected island are now under high alert. The infection is caused by the same bacteria as its bubonic form, in which it killed some 50 million people on the late 1300s.

The outbreak is spreading unusually fast, and is already feared to have reached as far as favourite British expat and holiday locations such as the Seychelles, La Reunion and South Africa. Mauritius, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Comoros are also on the danger list after having been sent the heightened alert. Thanks to modern antibiotics, so far only100 people have died from the infection, which is centred in several towns on the island as well as in the capital, Antananarivo, and the second largest city of Toamasina.

The disease is endemic in Madagascar, but is normally confined to remote villages. Its fast spread to the main city is causing concern amongst experts, as has the relatively high number of fatalities in the comparatively short time since it was first reported. It’s also the first time the two largest cities in Madagascar have seen plague cases during an outbreak. Some 600 cases are identified each year, but usually occur later in the year during the rainy season.

Around a million doses of antibiotics and 20,000 respiratory masks have already been sent to the island by international agencies.The WHO is at present advising against trade and travel restrictions, and has requested £4.2 million to deal adequately with the response. It may come as a surprise to expats living in the region, but plague outbreaks occur even in first world countries, although they are dealt with very quickly. For example, the bacterium occasionally surfaces in China, and between five and 15 people die annually from plague in the USA’s Western States. Around 90 per cent of all cases occur in Africa.
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