Health workers are trying to contain an outbreak of airborne plague in Africa which has infected more than 1,300 people.
Nearby nations have been placed on high alert, and a World Health Organisation said, ‘’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.’
The disease is caused by the same microbe which wiped out 50 million people in Europe during the Black Death, but in a form that can be spread by coughing.
Most of the cases in the current outbreak are pneumonic plague, a more virulent form that spreads through coughing, sneezing or spitting and is almost always fatal if untreated.
In some cases, it can kill within 24 hours. Like the bubonic form, it can be treated with common antibiotics if caught in time. Up to 50 aid workers have been infected, and WHO figures state that 93 people have lost their lives so far.
The disease has long been seen in Madagascar’s remote areas – but this outbreak is largely concentrated in its two largest cities, Antananarivo and Toamasina.
The World Health Organisation, criticised for its slow response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, has released 1.5 million US dollars and sent plague specialists and epidemiologists. The Red Cross is sending its first-ever plague treatment centre to Madagascar.