Bubonic plague or “Black Death” outbreak recently killed 20 people in Madagascar’s north-western town of Mandritsara, local authorities said. Bubonic plague is caused by a bacteria transmitted by flea bites from infected rodents and is believed to have emerged from the unhygienic conditions of the country’s prisons.
According to Christoph Vogt, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Madagascar, said that the unsanitary and overcrowded conditions of the prisons of Madagascar are not only dangerous for the inmates but also for the whole population of the country as well.
He added that the relatives of the detainees after the prison visit can carry the disease outside with them or even a released detainee can also spread it outside the community. The plague can also spread by way of the prison staff and the rats themselves. The outbreak is also blamed on the massive deforestation allowing the rodents to crowd in the residential areas.
The people who were infected with the plague develop symptoms and usually appearing 2 to 5 days after exposure like: chills, gangrene of the extremities, muscle cramps, high fever, painful lymph gland swelling and the over-all feeling of malaise. If left untreated victims of the plague has a high mortality rate.
However, it is not only bubonic plague that is causing problems in Madagascar but pneumonic plague too. According to health officials pneumonic plague is caused by the same bacteria but is more deadly than bubonic plague because it can kill a person within 24 hours after infection. Pneumonic plague can be transmitted between humans even without the bite of fleas from rodents. This can be transmitted by way of inhalation. The bacteria is carried by droplets that people can inhale and eventually lodges into the lungs. The speed by which pneumonic plague is transmitted and infects a person makes antibiotic with little time to act and cure the person.
Based on data for 2012, Madagascar had 60 deaths caused by the bubonic plague outbreak which is the world’s highest recorded number of cases so far. The ICRC even warned last October 2013 that the country might be at risk of getting a plague epidemic. According to experts, the disease could easily spread to other towns and cities because of the poor living standards of these places worsened by political crisis and the debilitating effects of the 2009 coup on society.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) pneumonic plague is one of the most infectious diseases in the world and has a high mortality rate for people that are infected. Right now, WHO together with the research foundation, Institut Pasteur are on site to manage the suspected epidemic.
The plague is still present around the world but is rare and can easily be treated with several classes of antibiotics. The plague is also known as the Black Death has taken the lives of millions of people in Europe back in the Middle Ages (1300’s to 1400’s) in its most deadly outbreaks. Lesser degree of outbreaks occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 19th and early 20th centuries it begun to appear in Asia and started spreading from China in 1850 and India in 1930.
The bubonic plague outbreak killed 20 people in Madagascar. Although the plague has been controlled with modern sanitation practices and antibiotics, a small portion of the plague still exists somewhere in the world and experts are worried that antibiotic-resistant strains of the bacteria may someday emerge.
By Roberto I. Belda