Madagascar is facing an outbreak of pneumonic plague, a rare but highly lethal disease thought to be an affliction left behind in medieval times, is spreading rapidly across the African island nation.
The plague has claimed the lives of 33 people since Saturday, while an estimated 230 more have contracted the disease. According to the BBC, this particular strand is a pneumonic plague which is highly contagious and spreads via coughing.
Up to 400 Madagascans are infected with the plague each year, and the government has been widely criticized in the past for not acting fast enough in the event of an outbreak.
Last year, during what was a mild outbreak compared to the current pandemic, roughly 300 people got sick, and 63 lost their lives over the course of a year, according to Madagascar’s Ministry of Health.
Pneumonic plague is so deadly that, if left untreated, it can kill its host in less than 24 hours.
In response to the outbreak, officials in Madagascar have ordered the closure of the country’s public institutions where the crowded environment could facilitate a very rapid transmission of the plague. Prisons have also been locked down with all visits temporarily suspended to prevent the plague from spreading to the inmates.
Government buildings, universities, and schools across the country are among the institutions that have been closed so that health workers can deploy powerful insecticides in those areas.
So far, the World Health Organization (WHO) has managed to deliver over a million doses of antibiotics to bring the outbreak of plague under control. Miora Herinjatovo, a healthcare worker for the WHO, told reporters that while she was able to secure a mask from a local hospital, her husband was caught up in a crowd of people without protection.
“We are scared — all of these deaths show that the situation is serious.”
While the pneumonic plague shares the same bacterium with the bubonic plague that caused the cataclysmic medieval “Black Death,” the latter is much less deadly. Madagascar’s previous outbreaks have been dominated by the bubonic plague, which is spread to humans when they are bitten by an infected rodent or flea.
According to WHO experts, the pneumonic plague pandemic began in August when a 31-year-old man traveled inland to an area where the bacterium is known to live amongst the rodents and fleas. The man died in a taxi he had boarded to take him home while he was being transported through the country’s capital, Antananarivo. With tens of millions of people living in the city, the plague was able to spread throughout the population rapidly.
[Featured Image by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Getty Images]