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What you need to know about Madagascar plague outbreak

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steve white

"Its not so sensationalist but how abo..."

steve white

"What you need to know about Madagasca..."

geoff goodfellow

"<b>DANCING WITH DEATH Plague is sprea..."

Ross Hoey

"Excellent... thanks for taking my poi..."

An outbreak of plague in Madagascar has killed scores and infected at least 1,300 others, according to a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The death toll is forecast to rise in the next few days in a country where plague is a seasonal occurrence but where this time the spread has been further than usual. However, authorities say the risks of it spreading internationally are low.

Plague reports have a morbid hold over humans psyche, given the many times epidemics have threatened humanity’s survival. The most infamous case was the “Black Death” epidemics that ravaged the Eurasian continent in the mid-fourteenth century. The pandemic killed up to half of Europeans, according to this analysis by the BBC health editor.

Here’s what you need to know about the outbreak.

Where did it start?

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The outbreak started on August 27 after an unnamed 31-year old man died while travelling by shared public taxi to Toamasina, a port city in east Madagascar. On August 23, the man had visited Madagascar’s Ankazobe District in the Central Highlands – a historic plague hotspot – where he developed symptoms mistaken for malaria.

His death was not initially linked to the plague. No precautions were taken for his burial. From the moment he contracted the disease until his death, the man came into contact with 31 people. Four of them subsequently died.

The man’s journey took him through Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, which is now the area of the country most affected by the disease.

The outbreak was detected on September 11 after the death of a 47 year-old woman from Antananarivo. She was admitted to hospital for respiratory failure caused by pulmonary plague.

What’s different?

Plague outbreaks are a seasonal occurrence in Madagascar, the African island nation of roughly 24 million people. But these outbreaks are different for several reasons: they began earlier than usual; they feature a higher incidence of the lethal pneumonic plague strain; and they are affecting highly populated areas of Madagascar, including its two largest cities – Antananarivo and Toamasina.

What is the plague?

The plague is caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria. There are three variants of the disease, depending on the route of infection: pneumonic (through the lungs), bubonic (through the lymph nodes), and septicemic (through the blood).

One of the most preoccupying and unusual aspects of this outbreak is that 67 percent of cases are due to the most virulent strain of the disease – the pneumonic, or pulmonary, plague.

This variant is almost 100 percent lethal unless treated early. It attacks the victim’s lungs. It is highly infectious and usually develops following an initial bubonic or septicemic plague infection, but can also spread from human to human through airborne transmission. However, recovery rates are high if the disease is spotted and treated within the first 24 hours.

Pulmonary plague symptoms start manifesting within one to three days and may include fevers, headaches, chest pains, shortness of breath, and (usually bloody) coughs.

Outbreak still worries

The WHO reports that the number of new cases has continued to fall across all active areas of the country over the past two weeks. However, the severe nature of the disease and its risk of contagion mean “the overall risk at the national level is considered very high”.

The organisation says it is working with Madagascar’s Ministry of Public Health and other Malagasy institutions “to monitor and respond to the outbreak of plague.”

The government initially told journalists it had the situation under control, according to Rondro Ramamonjisoa, deputy editor-in-chief for national newspaper L’Express de Madagascar.

“A week of panic,” Ramamonjisoa told WikiTribune, ensued after a visiting basketball coach from Seychelles died from the pneumonic plague on September 27 in Antananarivo. On October 11, Malagasy President Hery Rajaonarimam­pianina broke his silence to urge Malagasies to remain calm, according to the Express (link in French).

“The government took some time to decide, but once they did everything started moving,” says Ramamonjisoa.

To stall the outbreak, the government temporarily shut down public institutions, including schools and two universities. It also called off public gatherings, The Washington Post says quoting local media reports.

On October 6, the WHO said it delivered almost 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and released $1.5 million in emergency funds to fight the spread of the disease in Madagascar.

The disease has struck people of all ages. On October 31,  the Express (link in French) reported that the death toll rose to 128 following the death of a child at a hospital in Antananarivo over the weekend.

The newspaper also reported that a man infected with the disease escaped quarantine on October 26, raising fears he might infect others. According to the newspaper, Madagascar’s Public Health Minister said the man was “public danger number one”. WikiTribune has been unable to independently corroborate these reports.

Alarm bells elsewhere

Plague reports have set off alarm bells around another nine southeastern African countries and overseas territories. Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, La Réunion (France), Seychelles, South Africa, and Tanzania have all been placed on alert due to their trade and travel links to Madagascar, according to the WHO report.

While the WHO report describes the risk of regional spread is “moderate,” it says the risk of international contamination is “low.” This is mainly due to the disease’s short incubation period and screening measures put in place by the WHO and Madagascar’s Ministry of Public Health.

However, strict security measures are in place in Malagasy transport hubs, including ports and airports.

Sources & References

Wikipedia guide to plague and its variants

Started by

United Kingdom
George Engels is a staff journalist and producer at WikiTribune. He has a background in history and philosophy and a strong interest in international politics and security, and social affairs. His work has been published by The Sunday Times, The Camden New Journal, The West End Extra and the Islington Tribune.

History for stories "What you need to know about Madagascar plague outbreak"

Select two items to compare revisions

01 November 2017

09:55:41, 01 Nov 2017 . .‎ Cassandra Vinograd (Updated → summary)

31 October 2017

17:03:18, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ Cassandra Vinograd (Updated → new headline, trying to better reflect piece as explainer)
15:46:58, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ Cassandra Vinograd (Updated → makes headline single quote marks)
15:36:51, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → re-embedded map)
15:32:33, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → updated one word in headline)
15:09:33, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ Matthias Kötter (Updated → put WHO-risk assessment in title, more accurate)
15:04:53, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → minor edit to lede)
14:36:17, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → fixed funky formatting (again))
14:35:30, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → fixed funky formatting)
14:33:04, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → added map)
13:55:47, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ Peter Bale (Updated → Fixed)
13:54:47, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ Peter Bale (Updated → Edited and published, PGB)
13:38:01, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → added 1 link)
13:36:55, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → deleted 1 sentence break)
13:35:44, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → minor edit)
13:32:47, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → fleshed story out)
07:48:35, 31 Oct 2017 . .‎ Charles Anderson (Updated → headline tweak)

30 October 2017

17:18:00, 30 Oct 2017 . .‎ Cassandra Vinograd (Updated → needs rework. Reporter will address Tuesday)
16:05:02, 30 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → 2nd draft)
15:41:12, 30 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → 2nd draft)
12:00:41, 30 Oct 2017 . .‎ Cassandra Vinograd (Updated → minor edits)
11:51:38, 30 Oct 2017 . .‎ George Engels (Updated → 1st draft)

Talk for Story "What you need to know about Madagascar plague outbreak"

Talk about this Story

  1. Rewrite

    DANCING WITH DEATH Plague is spreading because relatives are digging up their Black Death dead and DANCING with the corpses as part of ancient Madagascan ritual called Famadihana
    31st October 2017

    Black Death MAPPED: ‘global outbreak’ warning as NINE new countries place on high alert
    HEALTH chiefs are scrambling to contain a Black Death outbreak after plague warnings were issued for nine countries across south-east Africa.

    PUBLISHED: Oct 31, 2017

    SA wary of plague threat
    Durban – South African health authorities are on alert for possible imported cases of the plague. This, as almost 1 300 suspected cases have been reported in Madagascar.

    31 OCTOBER 2017

  2. Rewrite

    Something weird happened when I changed the article-title – the OpenStreetmap-element vanished. Don’t know why.

    1. Rewrite

      Not sure why that happened either. Have just re-embedded the map. For future reference and for copyright purposes, please be sure to only embed maps from this site:

  3. Rewrite

    It does make more sence once explained however perhaps toneing it down a bit to:
    ‘Seasonal outbreaks of ‘Black Death’ plagues Madagascar’
    This shows that it is an annual thing, and therefore not something new that authorities do not know how to handle, and that it is under reasonable control.
    The removal of the question also takes away the tone that this is possibly something we have to be worried about, raising concerns that can only be satisfied by reading the article.

    1. Rewrite

      Point taken. Matthias and I have just updated the headline.

      1. Rewrite

        Excellent… thanks for taking my points on board

  4. Rewrite

    I was hoping that WikiTribune would avoid sensational Headlines.

    I found the report interesting and informative, but I do not like the tone of the title as it follows the trend of other News headlines in inciting fear and panic in what appears to be an annual occurrence in that part of Madagascar.

    In addition I Really liked the ability to go to the ‘WHO’ source

    1. Rewrite

      You could just change the title to a less sensational one, no? 😉

      1. Rewrite

        Hi Ross, thanks for your comment. What would you suggest as a headline? I don’t think there is anything particularly sensational about the current one.

        If you don’t mind, I’ll briefly explain my reasoning:
        – The term “Black death” is shorthand for the Yersinia pestis bacteria, and is also much more recognisable
        –The verb “plagues” is not sensational, since it refers to something that causes “continual trouble or distress to” something/someone, according to my dictionary.
        – “should the world worry?” is asking a legitimate question, which is promptly answered in the lede.

        1. Rewrite

          What you need to know about Madagascar plague outbreak

          I reckon I don’t actually need to know anything about it and you story suggest taht too, so that whats wrong with your headline.

          1. Rewrite

            Its not so sensationalist but how about you write a normal headline like “WHO concerned about early and increased seasonal outbreak of plague in Madagascar” and not a headline that buzzfeed would write.

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