Hundreds of people are infected with a virus that spreads as easy as any flu. In fact, it’s even transmitted the same way. The deadly outbreak of pneumonic plague has contaminated part of the southeast African island of Madagascar, leaving at least 45 deaths in 27 out of the 114 country’s districts. This virus is so dangerous that if an infected person gets no treatment at all, it has 100 percent chances to die.
The plague is spreading so quickly, officials of the area don’t know what to do to stop it before it turns into a huge problem. At least 385 people have already confirmed they got infected with the virus since late August. Authorities are seeking help in volunteers, but they think the 700 people that have enrolled are not enough to help the entire infected population.
According to the Malagasy Red Cross, while the amount seems to be huge, the volunteers are not enough to help people get better, to be in contact with the victims, and to deny false information that people – in this cases – usually comment. The BBC News informed this week that at least one person had been arrested after giving false reports on social media about the illness.
This year, the first person infected with the virus was a 31-year-old man who died in an eastern-Madagascar public service vehicle. The man was followed by two other people who had earlier contacted him. Then, the virus reached the Seychellois basketball coach, who was traveling through Madagascar for a tournament. His case was widely commented around the country.
Seychelles national air carrier said on Sunday that it would not present services for a season due to the pneumatic outbreak in the region and Madagascar.
“Plague is curable if detected in time. Our teams are working to ensure that everyone at risk has access to protection and treatment. The faster we move, the more lives we save,” said the Madagascar’s WHO Representative, Dr Charlotte Ndiaye, in a statement.
Not the first time pneumonic plague in Madagascar
There is a majority of people who are aware of the outbreak’s existence. However, most of them don’t know what the disease can do once it affects a person. Officials said that people don’t even know how to stop it, how much time does the virus take to go away from a person’s system, or how much time does it take to kill the patient.
Madagascar usually suffers from lung virus outbreaks between September and April, but this last one began even earlier. Each year, the island nation sees around 400 cases of the bubonic plague all around the country. Health officials said that the plague has struck in all the island, but most of all in two of Madagascar’s major cities: Antananarivo and Toamasina.
A specialized hospital in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, is struggling to cope with the number of ills, as people queue outside the facility for face masks and medicine, according to local media.
WHO intervened because of the outbreak earlier this week
The bacteria Yersinia pestis, which is commonly found in small mammals and their fleas, cause pneumonic plague. These fleas transmit the virus through their bites and when they directly touch infected tissues. However, the virus can also spread through a cough. After people get infected with the bacteria, they start feeling the symptoms within the first seven days of incubation.
There are two main clinical forms of the plague: bubonic and pneumonic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first one is the most common form and comes with painful swollen lymph nodes or “buboes.” Those who get the bubonic type, usually have between 30 and 60 percent of chances to die. But if the person isn’t treated at all, the chances rise to 100 percent.
Antibiotic treatment is effective against plague bacteria, so early diagnosis and early treatment can save lives. Currently, the countries who suffer the most from pneumatic plague outbreaks are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, and Peru. WHO reported 3248 cases across the world between 2010 and 2015 – including 584 deaths.
Last week, WHO gave the country 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and authorized $1.5 million in funding to help combat the plague outbreak. The government, on the other hand, has disinfected school classrooms, banned large public events in the capital, granted surgical masks to its people, and suspended visits to sentenced people in the areas were the outbreak has affected the most. The risk of contamination is unusually high in overcrowded and unsanitary jails.
However, the authorities have received a lot of criticism from the people. They think that the government reacted slowly after the outbreak.
“The risk of the disease spreading is high at national level… because it is present in several towns and this is just the start of the outbreak,” a WHO official said.