An outbreak of plague has reportedly killed forty people on the island nation of Madagascar. In total, more than one hundred people have been infected with the bacterial disease since August 2014.
In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, the World Health Organization is cooperating with the Red Cross and Madagascan health authorities. Roughly $200,000 has been set aside to help pay for a national task force designed to manage the threat.
Combating the disease — which is carried by rodents and spread by fleas–is proving very difficult in Madagascar, where there has been resistance to using a special type of insecticide designed to kill fleas.
If a human is infected, the disease can usually be treated using antibiotics. However, the deadlier, pneumonic form of the disease, which takes aim at the lungs, can kill a patient within a day, well before antibiotics can take effect. The good news is that the deadlier pneumonic plague, which is spread by coughing, is very rare, accounting for only two per cent of all cases reported in the island nation.
In total, sixteen districts in Madagascar have reported cases of the plague since the outbreak began on August 31. The first case involved a man from a small town just outside the city of Antananarivo; the infection spread quickly, resulting in the man’s death within 48 hours.
Although the plague is most associated with deadly epidemics that thinned the population of Europe in the middle ages, the disease is still visible in parts of Africa and Asia.