Plague has struck Madagascar again. More than 40 people in five districts have been killed by the bubonic version, spread by rats’ fleas, while two have died from the even more lethal pneumonic type, which is spread from person to person and can kill in 24 hours.
Last year, the island suffered more deaths from the disease than any other country – 60. There has been a programme to exterminate rats and fleas in Madagascar’s prisons, but the Red Cross warned in October that there was danger of an epidemic, following a fall in living standards since a coup in 2009.
Health officials have gone to the areas affected to investigate, but the local WHO office says medicines are in short supply.
Most, though not all, scientists believe bubonic and pneumonic plague caused the world’s deadliest epidemic – the Black Death, which killed perhaps a third of Europe’s population and countless more in Asia from about 1334 to 1351.