Do you remember studying the plague when you were at school? Otherwise known as the “Black Death,” the pandemic spread all across Europe and took the lives of around 50 million people in its wake. And according to health warnings that have been issued by nine different African countries, it looks like it’s back. The disease has been detected in Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa where, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), between August 1st and 19th October 2017 there have been 1,297 suspected, probable and confirmed cases of the plague reported, particularly within major cities and 102 deaths. Eight hundred and forty-six cases have been classified as the pneumonic plague, with 270 being confirmed as bubonic plague. The rest are unspecified.
This beautiful island, Madagascar, is where the plague has been detected over 1,200 times since August. Bubonic plague affects the lymph nodes, leaving sufferers with painful, swollen “buboes,” whereas pneumonic plague affects the lungs and can be transmitted via droplets (from coughing and sneezing, presumably) among humans. While the bubonic plague is the more common strain, the pneumonic is more severe, killing anyone who goes untreated.
The fear is that with air travel and sea trade the disease could easily spread from Madagascar to various other countries, including some popular vacation destinations. As a result, nine territories have issued warnings to their people and prospective visitors, as well as preparing themselves as possible targets for the disease.
Those territories are:
- La Réunion (France)
- South Africa
The danger of the plague is that it’s possible for it to spread while still in the “incubation period,” which can last anywhere between one and seven days, and is when the infection has embedded itself in a person’s system but the symptoms have not yet started to show. Symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, chills, head and body aches, weakness, vomiting and nausea.
While medicine has obviously advanced a lot since the 13th and 14th centuries, it’s obviously still pretty worrying that a disease this infectious may take hold again. The WHO explains that antibiotics and supportive therapy are effective against plague if patients are diagnosed in time, but if it’s left untreated, pneumonic plague can be fatal within 18 to 24 hours of disease onset.