An outbreak of a highly contagious plague has claimed 30 lives in the impoverished Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar over the last two months, and is swiftly spreading in cities across the country, authorities said on Wednesday.
“We have recorded 194 suspected cases of plague, including 30 deaths,” AFP quoted health official Manitra Rakotoarivony as saying in a statement, while updating the death toll from 25.
Experts say they can’t remember the last time the death toll was so high. Last year, 63 people died over the course of the year, out of 275 cases.
Madagascar has a history of plague outbreaks almost every year since 1980, often sparked by rats fleeing forest fires.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the current outbreak is unusual as it has affected urban areas, increasing the risk of transmission.
“It is as if the plague is the end of the world… but it is a disease like any other,” said WHO official Charlotte Ndiaye, trying to reassure Madagascans.
“We are lucky that treatment is available for this disease and it is free.”
Consequently, public gatherings have now been banned in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, in a bid to slow the disease’s spread, while critical medical supplies, including antibiotics and personal protective equipment, have been supplied by the WHO.
Government authorities also ordered two universities to be shutdown, and other schools have shut their doors across the country, so buildings can be sprayed with insecticides.
“We are scared — all of these deaths show that the situation is serious,” Miora Herinjatovo, 55, told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday.
The outbreak combines bubonic plague, which is spread by infected rats via flea bites, and pneumonic plague, spread from person to person.
Pneumonic plague can kill quickly, within 18-24 hours of infection if left untreated, but it can be cured by early use of antibiotics.