Madagascar Plague: Mauritius, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Seychelles put on high alert by WHO

WHO has already placed 10 African nations on high alert and ordered 9 among them to go in for preparations to deal with the outbreak.

Madagascar plague
Liberian woman stands as health workers wearing protective clothing prepare to carry an abandoned dead. Reuters

Patients in Madagascar who are infected with plague are escaping from hospitals fearing that needles are behind the spread of the disease. According to Jean Benoit Manhes, deputy representative of Unicef, the people of the region are not used to the concept of hospitals and are scared of needles, thus holding the needles responsible for its spread.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the death toll has risen to 171 and has affected 2,119 people off the coast of Africa. Scary as it may sound, but the rate of spread has increased by four percent in just two days.

WHO has already placed 10 African nations on high alert and ordered 9 of them to gear up with the preparations to avoid the possible outbreak of the disease. Malawi has been warned of the plague rampage as WHO insists on a possible plague attack in the region over the weekends. South Africa, Seychelles, La Reunion, Tanzania, Mauritius, Comoros, Mozambique, Kenya and Ethiopia are on the list of the African nations put on high alert.

The UN health body, which has delivered nearly 1.2 million doses of antibiotics and released $1.5 million in emergency funds to fight plague in Madagascar last month, said 82 hospital workers have reported symptoms of the plague.

Since the plague strikes Madagascar every year, experts believe that the region eventually will turn resistant to the antibiotics and mutate, making it difficult to treat the disease in the long run. Especially, the plague effect will witness a huge increase in the coming months until its season ends in April, said the health organization.

Madagascar plague
Health workers wearing protective clothing prepare to carry an abandoned dead body presenting with Ebola. Reuters

Two-thirds of the cases have been caused due to the pneumonic plague which is airborne in nature and can kill within 24 hours. It usually spreads through spitting, coughing or sneezing. Pneumonic plague is different from the bubonic plague or 'Black Death' which kills as many as 600 people every year in this region. Doctors and nurses in every hospital fear that authorities might not be able to cope with the situation if the outbreak occurs.

Famadihana ritual behind it?

Officials are trying to put a stop to the ancient ritual called Famadihana, where relatives dig up the corpses of their loved ones as it might trigger a deadly spread of the disease. They are trying to put the remains inside a mausoleum ensuring that the tomb cannot be reopened.

People in Madagascar are, however, not happy with the decision. Willy Randriamarotia, the Madagascan health ministry's chief of staff stated that keeping the corpse of a person who died in pneumonic plague can still be opened for Famadihana as bacteria can still affect the person handling the body.