Bubonic Plague Alert Issued in Madagascar

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Experts have warned that Madagascar faces a bubonic plague epidemic unless it slows the spread of the disease, reports the BBC. The Red Cross and Pasteur Institute have said the inmates in the island’s dirty, crowded jails are particularly at risk.

The number of cases rises each October as the hot, humid weather attracts fleas, which transmit the disease from rats and other animals to humans, says the BBC. Last year, Madagascar had 256 plague cases and 60 deaths – the world’s highest recorded number.

Bubonic plague, labeled the Black Death when it killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe during the Middle Ages, is now rare. Experts say that Africa – especially Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – accounts for more than 90% of cases worldwide, reports the BBC.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says the prevalence of rats in Madagascar’s prisons mean the plague can be spread easily. Fleas from rats can infect prisoners, prison staff and visitors, presenting a very real threat to the general population, says the BBC.

Eradicating the disease is not easy because simply killing the rats is not enough. To prevent the infected fleas transferring to another host – possibly a human – the insects as well as the rodents must be destroyed, the BBC says. And while the disease can be treated with antibiotics if detected early, a lack of facilities makes this difficult in outlying parts of Madagascar.