The plague that erupted in Madagascar this August continues to worsen, with at least 127 now dead, World Health Organisation reports. Between August and September over 1900 suspected or confirmed cases of the plague were reported – the same plague which destroyed 60% of the European population in the 14th century.
A recent report published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Madagascar’s National Office for Risk and Disaster Management revealed that approximately 67% of cases in Madagascar have been pneumonic, which is the most grave form of the plague.
Joseph Hinnebusch, a plague expert at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said the current plague was more severe than expected. “It’s not unprecedented at all for Madagascar to have plague; they’ve actually been responsible for most of the cases of plague in the world for the last couple of decades,” he says in a Buzzfeed article. “However, this year’s outbreak is unusual in both the number of cases and also in the number of pneumonic plague cases.”
The Ministry of Public Health in Madagascar are working to eliminate the spread of disease and heal affected people, with crisis units providing free treatments in all large cities. So far 780 cases have been cured since the outbreak on August 1.
Hinnebusch explains the urgency of dealing with the pneumonic plague in particular. “The problem is you have to diagnose and start the treatment quickly because it’s a rapidly progressing disease — with pneumonic, you only have a couple of days to diagnose and treat,” he says.
The UN recommends visiting a doctor as soon as any symptoms are shown, especially if you live in an area where the plague is endemic. Some symptoms include coughing up blood, chest pain, fever and extreme weakness. Wearing insect repellent and covering the skin with clothing is a good way to decrease the chances of being bitten by plague-carrying fleas. It is also advised that uninfected people avoid contact with ill or dead people and animals.
Hinnebusch points out there are still cases of the plague elsewhere in the world, usually in Africa, India and Central Asia. The United States has approximately 7 cases of the plague each year, though Hinnebusch says “it’s rare for there to be any fatalities.” There is currently no vaccination which prevents the plague in the United States.