SA on alert after 48 plague deaths in Madagascar

Plague in Madagascar: 124 people died, more than a thousand infected

"If a person dies of pneumonic plague and is then interred in a tomb that is subsequently opned for a famadihana, the bacteria can still be transmitted and contaminate whoever handles the body", Willy Randriamarotia, the chief of staff in Madagascar's health ministry, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP), an worldwide news organization.

It wasn't really all that long ago that the "black death" pandemics wiped out massive chunks of the population in various European and Asian cities. The virus can be transmitted between animals and humans by the bite of infected fleas or the inhalation of infected respiratory droplets.

There are three major types of plague: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic.

Contact with humans carrying the pneumonic plague is also a risk factor of acquiring the infection.

While outbreaks of the plague are common in the country, this time, the disease has spread to urban areas increasing the risk of transmission.

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The word "plague" conjures up images of bodies piled high and creepy doctors donning long, beaked masks, but while modern day cases of the disease are rare in developed nations - with deaths very few and far between - it can still wreak some serious havoc in many corners of the world. The lymph node then becomes inflamed, tense and painful, and is called a 'bubo.' At advanced stages of the infection the inflamed lymph nodes can turn into suppurating open sores.

Plague is caused by infection with the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is typically spread through the bite of infected fleas, frequently carried by rats, causing bubonic plague. Pneumonic plague, World Health Organization says, is "always fatal" when left untreated.

CNN reports that more than 1,192 people since August have been infected with the plague, and that 124 have died. Currently, pneumonic plague is the most popular and the most risky. If untreated, it has a fatality rate close to 100 percent and can be fatal within 24 hours of being contracted.

Plague is a constant threat in Madagascar, where several hundred cases are usually reported each year. The capital Antananarivo, a transport and trade hub, and the port of Toamasina are most affected.

They've also reportedly petitioned for $5.5 million dollars in additional aid.

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