At least 57 persons have been feared dead with more than 680 cases recorded as the plague outbreak in Madagascar continues to spread at unprecedented rates.
The latest figures are from October 12 with an estimated 329 of these cases, and 25 deaths recorded in the capital, Antananarivo.
It is understood that there was panic among many residents of Antanarivo as they waited in long lines for antibiotics at pharmacies and reached through bus windows to buy masks from street vendors.
Schools have been canceled, and public gatherings are banned.
After much criticism for its slow response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO), it was learnt, released $1.5 million and sent plague specialists and epidemiologists, while the Red Cross has created its first-ever plague treatment center to Madagascar.
According to health officials, the infections started much earlier this year than usual, and they’re occurring in new areas, including urban settings.
They’ve also seen an unexpected number of cases of pneumonic plague, which transmits more easily from person to person.
Of the 684 cases reported as of October 12, 474 were pneumonic plague, 156 bubonic and 1 septicemic plague. A further 54 were unspecified, according to WHO.
Of Madagascar’s 114 districts, 35 have reported cases of plague, including at least 10 cities.
Plague is caused by infection with the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is typically spread through the bite of infected fleas, frequently carried by rats, causing bubonic plague.
Symptoms include painful, swollen lymph nodes, called bubos, as well as fever, chills and coughing.
Pneumonic plague is more virulent or damaging and is an advanced form characterized by a severe lung infection.
The infection can be transmitted from person to person via airborne droplets — coughing or sneezing. The incubation period is short, and an infected person may die within 12 to 24 hours.
The WHO calls plague a “disease of poverty” caused in part by unsanitary living conditions.