How Madagascar Took Control Of Its Plague Outbreak

Madagascar is one of those African countries that frequently battles with an epidemic of bubonic plague annually.

The plague is caused by zoonotic bacteria known as Yersinia pestis usually found in fleas, and it’s transferable from one person to another, but over the years, the infection has become easily treatable with the use of antibiotics.

However, this year’s outbreak seemed very unusual, the spread of the infection proliferated and in its most severe form.

If the bacterial infection remains untreated, it can quickly travel to the lungs, and it will cause pneumonic disease, which is fatal and spread even more rapidly and can be transmitted from one host to another.

“The outbreak is a common foe, which we must conquer,” read a statement from Malagasy government authorities when the cases snowballed in mid-October.

In less than four months, over 2,000 illnesses were recorded, out of which 171 lost their lives. Statistics showed that the country recorded 600 cases in 2015 and 2016 combined, according to estimations from World Health Organization.

Less than a dozen people hospitalized

However, WHO reported this week that the rate of hospitalization and new cases are declining.

Just about 12 persons are currently admitted for the infection. They recorded the last confirmed cases in late October. It thus gives little confidence that the outbreak has been handled.

“Indeed, I feel it was,” said Hilary Bower, an epidemiologist who is part of the Public Rapid Support Team from the UK. Many other organizations also participated in the fight to quell the epidemic.

“Pulmonary infection can spread rapidly,” said Bower, who assisted in coordinating information about cases of the plague.

The plague usually happens in the villages but this time, it traveled through the cities of Madagascar, and they are not used to managing cases of the disease.

Public health workers screened about 7,000 individuals who had interactions with both suspected and confirmed patients. Preventive antibiotics were administered to 95% of them. Less than twelve of them had symptoms of the plague. A total of 9300 people got preventive treatment against the infection.

The epidemic is not yet over. WHO said that despite the good signs, it still expects more cases of the plague.