Plague kills 40 in Africa’s Madagascar, El Nino blamed

Tuesday 25 November 2014

High level of resistance to deltamethrin, an insecticide used to control fleas, has complicated the problem

A flee (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a “rapid” spread of the plague in Madagascar. Health authorities in the island nation have reported 119 cases of the bacterial disease. At least 40 people have died in the country that lies in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of southeast Africa.

Antananarivo, the capital city, according to a WHO press release, has also recorded two cases of plague, including one death. “The situation is further complicated by the high level of resistance to deltamethrin, an insecticide used to control fleas,” says WHO.

Plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, primarily affect wild rodents. It is spread from one rodent to another by fleas. Humans bitten by an infected flea usually develop the bubonic form of plague, which produces the characteristic plague bubo, or swelling of the lymph node. The first case was identified August 31 in the village of Soamahatamana.

“If diagnosed early, bubonic plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics,” says WHO. “Pneumonic plague, on the other hand, is one of the most deadly infectious diseases; patients can die 24 hours after infection.”

El-Nino blamed for spread of plague

Meanwhile, in a research published on website phys.org, scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that the outbreaks in Madagascar are linked to El-Nino, a naturally occurring climate event in the tropical Pacific.

Analysing a unique 48-year dataset on the occurrence of human plague across the island, they found that for much of this period, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycled on a two to five year time scale, with a similar period being detected for plague outbreaks.

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The plague took us by surprise

The plague took us by surprise

ASHISH KUMAR MUKHERJEE is the Director General of Health Services (DGHS), and as the country's topmost health bureaucrat, was the man in the hotseat when the recent plague outbreak occurred. He took over as DGHS in 1993, and the epidemic was the first major crisis of his tenure. He is now facing a lot of flak for allegedly mismanaging the resources at his command and for a lack of foresight. He spoke to Anirudh Bhattacharyya, at the height of the epidemic, about the outbreak and the measures being taken. Excerpts:

The plague took us by surprise

The plague took us by surprise

ASHISH KUMAR MUKHERJEE is the Director General of Health Services (DGHS), and as the country's topmost health bureaucrat, was the man in the hotseat when the recent plague outbreak occurred. He took over as DGHS in 1993, and the epidemic was the first major crisis of his tenure. He is now facing a lot of flak for allegedly mismanaging the resources at his command and for a lack of foresight. He spoke to Anirudh Bhattacharyya, at the height of the epidemic, about the outbreak and the measures being taken. Excerpts:

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