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A Deadly Outbreak of Plague Is Killing Dozens in Madagascar. Here's What to Know

A Deadly Outbreak of Plague Is Killing Dozens in Madagascar. Here's What to Know
From TIME - October 5, 2017

A widespread outbreak of the plague has gripped Madagascar. The disease has killed at least 30 people, and 194 have been infected since August, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Plague is endemic to the African island nation, with at least 400 reported cases annually during high season, September through April. But this year, that number has risen faster and sooner than normal.

Of the reported cases, nine people have died from the more common bubonic strain of plague. But about two-thirds of cases have been attributed to the more severe pneumonic plague, which has killed 21 people.

Here's what to know about the disease.

What is plague?

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria. There are two main forms: bubonic and pneumonic. Bubonic plague is spread by infected rats via flea bites. Sufferers can experience painful swelling of lymph nodes, called bubos, as well as flu-like symptoms.

Pneumonic plague is transmitted person-to-person by the inhalation of infected respiratory droplets. It's more uncommon but deadlier because it causes a severe lung infection and is especially contagious. Plague, especially pneumonic, has fatality rates of 30-100% if left untreated.

Is not plague from the Middle Ages?

Many people associate plague with medieval times, as the Yersinia pestis bacteria is believed to have caused the Black Death, which killed an estimated 50 million people in Europe in the 14th Century. But the disease continues to affect communities to this day.

According to WHO data from 2010-2015, there were 3,248 reported cases of plague in humans worldwide, resulting in 584 deaths. The disease is found in all continents, except Oceania, but it's most endemic to Madagascar, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Peru.

In the U.S. there are an average of seven cases of the plague reported each year.

Whats happening in Madagascar?

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