Plague in Madagascar Surprises and Alarms World Health organizations, U.S. not immune

World Health Organization responding to Seychelles plague

By Kami Klein

Experts are alarmed at a recent outbreak of plague that is spreading through major populated areas in Madagascar.  So far there has been 1,836 suspected or confirmed cases of pneumonic plague and 133 deaths in areas that have never seen this form of the disease before.

Every year Africa and Madagascar deal with an outbreak of plague within their borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) anticipates this in outlying areas and is ready to step in with antibiotics and information which eventually curtails the outbreak.  This year, health organizations around the world were surprised as the plague has spread so quickly and is primarily being found in heavily populated areas. While they anticipate around 400 cases a year, this year’s outbreak began sooner and a different strain of the disease has the world watching.

What is causing the alarm is that 65% of the plague occurring in Madagascar, pneumonic plague, is the only form that can be spread from human to human through droplets from coughing.  This makes containing the disease much more difficult and the chances that there will be more deaths almost certain.

According to the Center for Disease Control here in the United States, there are major differences in bubonic plague and pneumonic. Bubonic plague is spread to humans by the bites of infected fleas that live on small mammals such as rats.Without treatment, it kills up to two-thirds of those infected. One in 10 cases will develop into pneumonic plague which is almost always fatal if not treated quickly with antibiotics. This form, can and will spread from human to human which is the case in this outbreak. The good news is that a simple short course of antibiotics can cure the plague, providing it is given early.

Dr. Tim Jagatic told BBC News that the outbreak had spread to populated areas when a man infected with bubonic plague had traveled from the highlands to the capital and then on to the coastal city of Tamatave by bus.

“He had the bubonic form of the plague and entered into one of the major cities, where the bubonic version of the disease had the potential of turning into the pneumonic form without treatment.”

“He was in a closed environment with many people when he started to develop severe symptoms, and he started to transmit the pneumonic form of the disease to others.”

“So it wasn’t recognised until later,” he said, allowing the disease to “proliferate over a period of time unabated”.

This  case infected 31 other people, according to the WHO, four of whom died. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that an outbreak of the plague was detected and officially confirmed.

Although a travel ban has not been issued as of yet, officials do expect another spike in the disease before the season ends in April.  Medical personnel are all on  alert in parts of Africa that are most frequented by Madagascar citizens. WHO has delivered nearly 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and released $1.5 million dollars in emergency funds to fight the plague in Madagascar.

Though not widely publicized, the United States does have several cases of plague per year mostly in the Southwest. Dr Tim Jagatic, a doctor with Doctors without Borders currently working in Madagascar stated that the conditions which cause the plague outbreaks on the African island are also found in the US.

“Something today that very few people are aware of is that in the United States for instance, in the south-west, there’s an average of 11 cases of bubonic plague per year.

“These outbreaks occur simply because this is a bacteria which is able to maintain a reservoir in wild animals and every once in awhile, when humans come into contact with fleas that have had contact with the wild animals, it is able to transmit to humans.”

Information Sheet on the Plague

Information Sheet on the Plague


Sources:   BBC, WHO,CDC, New York Post  CNN

Plague outbreak in Madagascar kills 20: WHO

NAIROBI (Reuters) – An outbreak of plague has killed 20 people in the space of a month in Madagascar, with a further 84 infected, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.

Plague is mainly spread by flea-carrying rats. Humans bitten by an infected flea usually develop a bubonic form of plague, which swells lymph nodes and can be treated with antibiotics.

But the more dangerous pneumonic form invades the lungs and can kill a person within 24 hours if not treated. About half of the 104 known cases are pneumonic, the WHO said.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva that areas affected included the capital Antananarivo and the port cities of Mahajenga and Toamasina.

The U.N. health agency said it feared that the outbreak could worsen because the season for plague, which is endemic in Madagascar, had only just begun, and runs until April. On average, 400 cases are reported each year.

“The overall risk of further spread at the national level is high,” WHO said in a statement.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Locust Swarm In Madagascar Described As “Biblical”

A missionary in Madagascar is reporting that a locust swarm that descended on the nation’s capital is of “Biblical” proportions.

The insects overran the capital of Antananarivo in large clouds.  Roadways were brought to a virtual standstill because of the amount of crushed insects creating slick roads.

“It reminds us of the 10 plagues of Egypt,” missionary Ronald Miller told ABC News.

The plague of locusts is mentioned in Exodus 10:

“And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such,” verse 14 reads. “For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.”

The government blames the outbreak of the locusts on high temperatures, saying that’s the reason for the insects to invade the city.  The country is under a national disaster declaration and is expected to spend $41 million to try and control the outbreak.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says without treatments, the outbreak could completely wipe out crops and destroy the livelihood of 9 million who make a living from farming.

Bubonic Plague Strikes Madagascar

Health officials in Madagascar are scrambling after 20 people in a village near the town of Mandritsara were confirmed to have died last week from bubonic plague.

The total in one week was one-third of last year’s world leading total of 60 plague deaths.

The BBC is reporting that health officials from the country’s capital have rushed to the scene to investigate and launch control measures. The plague deaths were confirmed on Tuesday by the Pasteur Institute of Madagascar.

Yersinia pestis, or black plague, is spread through rats and fleas. Humans can be infected if bitten by an infected rat or a flea from one of those rats. It cannot be transmitted between humans and is treatable if caught early.

Health officials are concerned because the disease can rapidly grow in poor hygiene conditions such as in prisons. The Madagascar prison system is overrun with rats and it’s feared hundreds could die if an infected rat taints a prison-based population.

Bubonic Plague Epidemic Threatens Madagascar

Experts have stated that Madagascar is facing a bubonic plague epidemic if they do not find a way to stem the growth of the illness.

Both the Red Cross and the Pasteur Institute say that the island nation’s jails have been overrun by rats and pose an extremely serious risk for spreading the disease.

“If the plague gets into prisons there could be a sort of atomic explosion of plague within the town. The prison walls will never prevent the plague from getting out and invading the rest of the town,” said the institute’s Christophe Rogier told the BBC.

Last year, the country recorded the world’s highest number of confirmed cases of plague and the highest number of deaths. The disease is spread both by rats and the fleas that infest the rats.

October is start of the plague season in Madagascar because the hot, humid weather increases the amount of fleas.