Plague in Madagascar Surprises and Alarms World Health organizations, U.S. not immune

World Health Organization responding to Seychelles plague

By Kami Klein

Experts are alarmed at a recent outbreak of plague that is spreading through major populated areas in Madagascar.  So far there has been 1,836 suspected or confirmed cases of pneumonic plague and 133 deaths in areas that have never seen this form of the disease before.

Every year Africa and Madagascar deal with an outbreak of plague within their borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) anticipates this in outlying areas and is ready to step in with antibiotics and information which eventually curtails the outbreak.  This year, health organizations around the world were surprised as the plague has spread so quickly and is primarily being found in heavily populated areas. While they anticipate around 400 cases a year, this year’s outbreak began sooner and a different strain of the disease has the world watching.

What is causing the alarm is that 65% of the plague occurring in Madagascar, pneumonic plague, is the only form that can be spread from human to human through droplets from coughing.  This makes containing the disease much more difficult and the chances that there will be more deaths almost certain.

According to the Center for Disease Control here in the United States, there are major differences in bubonic plague and pneumonic. Bubonic plague is spread to humans by the bites of infected fleas that live on small mammals such as rats.Without treatment, it kills up to two-thirds of those infected. One in 10 cases will develop into pneumonic plague which is almost always fatal if not treated quickly with antibiotics. This form, can and will spread from human to human which is the case in this outbreak. The good news is that a simple short course of antibiotics can cure the plague, providing it is given early.

Dr. Tim Jagatic told BBC News that the outbreak had spread to populated areas when a man infected with bubonic plague had traveled from the highlands to the capital and then on to the coastal city of Tamatave by bus.

“He had the bubonic form of the plague and entered into one of the major cities, where the bubonic version of the disease had the potential of turning into the pneumonic form without treatment.”

“He was in a closed environment with many people when he started to develop severe symptoms, and he started to transmit the pneumonic form of the disease to others.”

“So it wasn’t recognised until later,” he said, allowing the disease to “proliferate over a period of time unabated”.

This  case infected 31 other people, according to the WHO, four of whom died. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that an outbreak of the plague was detected and officially confirmed.

Although a travel ban has not been issued as of yet, officials do expect another spike in the disease before the season ends in April.  Medical personnel are all on  alert in parts of Africa that are most frequented by Madagascar citizens. WHO has delivered nearly 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and released $1.5 million dollars in emergency funds to fight the plague in Madagascar.

Though not widely publicized, the United States does have several cases of plague per year mostly in the Southwest. Dr Tim Jagatic, a doctor with Doctors without Borders currently working in Madagascar stated that the conditions which cause the plague outbreaks on the African island are also found in the US.

“Something today that very few people are aware of is that in the United States for instance, in the south-west, there’s an average of 11 cases of bubonic plague per year.

“These outbreaks occur simply because this is a bacteria which is able to maintain a reservoir in wild animals and every once in awhile, when humans come into contact with fleas that have had contact with the wild animals, it is able to transmit to humans.”

Information Sheet on the Plague

Information Sheet on the Plague


Sources:   BBC, WHO,CDC, New York Post  CNN

State Officials Report: Oregon Teen Girl has Bubonic Plague

Oregon health officials state that a 16-year-old girl in Crook County has been diagnosed with the bubonic plague.

According to USA Today, the teen is currently in an intensive care at a local hospital and her status isn’t known at this time. The Oregon Health Authority believes the girl contracted the disease via flea bite while she was on a hunting trip. So far, no one else in Crook County has been infected with the plague.

“Many people think of the plague as a disease of the past, but it’s still very much present in our environment, particularly among wildlife,” state public health veterinarian Emilio DeBess told KGW. “Fortunately, plague remains a rare disease, but people need to take appropriate precautions with wildlife and their pets to keep it that way.”

Federal and state health officials are working with local authorities to investigate the disease.

The Bubonic plague is the disease heard of during the medieval times that wiped out the majority of the population, however, it is rare today. CBS News reports that there is an average of seven human plague cases a year. In Oregon, there have only been eight human cases since 1995 with no reported deaths.

If caught early enough, the plague can be treated with antibiotics. There is currently no vaccine for the plague.

Michigan Patient Tests Positive for Plague

A Michigan resident who had been vacationing in Colorado has tested positive for bubonic plague.

The Michigan Department of Health says the unnamed resident is the state’s first ever recorded case of the disease.  They said it’s likely the contracted the disease in Colorado because they visited an area “with reported plague activity.”

The confirmed infection is the 14th case of the life threatening disease this year.  Three people have died from the plague this year: two in Colorado and one in Utah.

The Centers for Disease Control said that the plague has been reported almost exclusively in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado since 1970.  Only one infection has been confirmed to have taken place outside of those states, and that was in a lab environment.

Doctors say the disease is still extremely rare.

“Now, it’s very rare, especially in the U.S. There are only about 7 to 10 cases a year, but it still exists,” medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips told “CBS This Morning.” “Think of rodents in very rural states — western states, southwest, ranches, farms — that’s likely what happened here.”

The number of overall infections this year is more than double the national average of seven cases.

Russian “Ghost Ship” Believed Headed Toward Britain

It sounds like the plot of a thriller movie but it’s reality.

A “ghost ship” has been floating loose in the upper Atlantic Ocean and is believed to be heading to the British coast filled with aggressive, disease-ridden, cannibalistic rats.

The Lyubov Orlova was being towed by a second ship after it was seized from its previous owner because of unpaid debts.  During the towing process, the boat broke free from the moorings and disappeared into the Atlantic.  It has only been spotted from the air a few times and has sent out signals twice in March 2013 but then went silent.

Experts are now warning that the recent wave of severe storms throughout the region could be driving the ship directly into the British coast.

The belief comes from the fact the lifeboats attached to the ship have not activated indicating they have touched down in the ocean.  If the ship had sunk, all the lifeboats would have had an emergency beacon activate.

If the ship were to make landfall, the disease infested rats could devastate the local rat population and be a major risk to humans for diseases like bubonic plague.

Bubonic Plague Strikes Madagascar

Health officials in Madagascar are scrambling after 20 people in a village near the town of Mandritsara were confirmed to have died last week from bubonic plague.

The total in one week was one-third of last year’s world leading total of 60 plague deaths.

The BBC is reporting that health officials from the country’s capital have rushed to the scene to investigate and launch control measures. The plague deaths were confirmed on Tuesday by the Pasteur Institute of Madagascar.

Yersinia pestis, or black plague, is spread through rats and fleas. Humans can be infected if bitten by an infected rat or a flea from one of those rats. It cannot be transmitted between humans and is treatable if caught early.

Health officials are concerned because the disease can rapidly grow in poor hygiene conditions such as in prisons. The Madagascar prison system is overrun with rats and it’s feared hundreds could die if an infected rat taints a prison-based population.

Bubonic Plague Epidemic Threatens Madagascar

Experts have stated that Madagascar is facing a bubonic plague epidemic if they do not find a way to stem the growth of the illness.

Both the Red Cross and the Pasteur Institute say that the island nation’s jails have been overrun by rats and pose an extremely serious risk for spreading the disease.

“If the plague gets into prisons there could be a sort of atomic explosion of plague within the town. The prison walls will never prevent the plague from getting out and invading the rest of the town,” said the institute’s Christophe Rogier told the BBC.

Last year, the country recorded the world’s highest number of confirmed cases of plague and the highest number of deaths. The disease is spread both by rats and the fleas that infest the rats.

October is start of the plague season in Madagascar because the hot, humid weather increases the amount of fleas.

Colorado Girl Gets Bubonic Plague While Camping

After reports this Summer of three people contracting the potentially deadly hantavirus while camping in Colorado, now a seven-year-old girl has been infected with bubonic plague after a Colorado camping trip.

Sierra Jane Downing thought she had the flu until her parents discovered she had a 107-degree fever after suffering a seizure at home. Doctors were unable at first to discover the cause before testing for the extremely rare bubonic plague. This is the first confirmed case in Colorado in 2006. Continue reading