Plague advice for South Africans as outbreak spreads in Madagascar

This Centers For Disease Control (CDC) file image shows the bubonic plague bacteria taken from a patient. File photo Image: AFP PHOTO/CDC

South Africa is among nine countries identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as priority areas to be prepared for the plague as the deadly disease spreads through Madagascar.

Madagascar‚ which has travel and trade ties to South Africa‚ has experienced a large outbreak of plague‚ also known as the “black death”‚ since August 2017.

The disease claimed 124 lives in Madagascar since August 1‚ according to reports‚ with in the region of 1 200 suspected‚ probable and confirmed cases recorded so far.

South Africa’s Department of Health has already advised travellers to Madagascar to avoid densely populated areas and to wear surgical masks while in transit. Screening measures at ports of entry have been enhanced to detect ill passengers‚ and provincial outbreak response teams have been alerted in case there are any reported incidents.

WHO said countries which should remain prepared – due to their travel and trade links with Madagascar – included: Ethiopia‚ Kenya‚ Mauritius‚ Mozambique‚ Réunion‚ Seychelles‚ South Africa‚ and Tanzania.

What are the symptoms of plague?

Sudden onset of fever‚ chills‚ head and body aches‚ weakness‚ vomiting and nausea. Painful and inflamed lymph nodes can also appear during bubonic plague. Symptoms of the pneumonic form appear quickly after infection and include severe respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughing‚ often with blood-tainted sputum.

How can I protect myself from being infected with plague?

To prevent the spread of pneumonic plague‚ avoid close contact (under 2 meters) with someone who is coughing‚ and reduce time spent in crowded areas. To prevent bubonic plague‚ do not touch dead animals and wear insect repellent while in plague endemic areas.

How can plague be treated?

Plague can be treated with antibiotics‚ and recovery is common if treatment starts early.