This year plague came early to Madagascar and spread quickly. When it began to move out from the areas where it historically occurs, people became increasingly alarmed – both within the island nation and in neighbouring territories and countries. From August to late October 2017, more than 1,800 suspected, probable or confirmed plague cases were reported, resulting in 127 deaths. This outbreak is unusually severe, and there are still five more months to go before the end of the plague season.
Plague is one of the oldest – and most feared – of all diseases. Historically, it has been responsible for widespread pandemics with high mortality. Nowadays, plague is easily prevented and treated with antibiotics if detected early enough, and infection can be prevented through the use of standard precautions.
Community engagement, social mobilization and risk communication comprise one of the key pillars of the plague outbreak response. Health workers, community influencers and volunteers have been actively engaging in spreading awareness on the prevention and control of plague and on treatment an care for patients. Telephone hotlines have been set up to address concerns of the public and to clarification of rumours and misinformation.
Knowledge resource for people at risk: Plague Q&A
Key facts *
- Plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, a zoonotic bacteria usually found in small mammals and their fleas.
- People infected with Y. pestis often develop symptoms after an incubation period of one to seven days.
- There are two main clinical forms of plague infection: bubonic and pneumonic. Bubonic plague is the most common form and is characterized by painful swollen lymph nodes or 'buboes'.
- Plague is transmitted between animals and humans by the bite of infected fleas, direct contact with infected tissues, and inhalation of infected respiratory droplets.
- Plague can be a very severe disease in people, with a case-fatality ratio of 30% to 60% for the bubonic type, and is always fatal for the pneumonic kind when left untreated.
- Antibiotic treatment is effective against plague bacteria, so early diagnosis and early treatment can save lives.
- From 2010 to 2015 there were 3248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths.
- Currently, the three most endemic countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, and Peru
*Source: Plague, Factsheet, Updated October 2017, accessed at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs267/en/ on 08/11/2017