The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued out a warning to nine African countries to be on high alert for the “black death” plague which has already accounted for 124 lives in Madagascar.
South Africa was warned alongside Kenya, Comoros, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Mozambique, France’s La Réunion, the Seychelles, and Tanzania.
Strong trade links with Madagascar have been cited as one of the reasons putting South Africa at risk of an outbreak which has infected over a thousand people in the island nation.
The deadly plague has a high mortality rate with 30-100% of death within 72 hours if not treated. The WHO report states that if detected early, it can be treated with the use of antibiotics.
“Historically, the plague was responsible for widespread pandemics with high mortality. It was known as the ‘Black Death’ during the fourteenth century, causing more than 50 million deaths in Europe. Nowadays, the plague is easily treated with antibiotics and the use of standard precautions to prevent acquiring infection,” the report stated.
The black death broke out in Madagascar last month, reportedly affecting urban areas which, according to the WHO, increases its chances of transmission and spread.
South Africa is one of the countries which have already put measures in place to prevent an outbreak, according to the report.
“Some of the neighbouring countries, namely Comoros, Mauritius and South Africa, have put in place measures to protect their population, including entry screening, information provision to passengers on how to seek medical care in case of symptoms, and other preparedness measures,” it said.
According to a WHO fact sheet on the plague, there are two main forms of infection; bubonic and pneumonic.
The bubonic plague –which is the most common – can be transmitted through being bitten by fleas as well exposure to rodents. Domestic cats can also carry the plague and scratches and bites from the infected felines pose a risk factor.
Contact with humans carrying the pneumonic plague is also a risk factor of acquiring the infection.
Symptoms of the plague include sudden and severe fevers, body aches, vomiting and nausea.
The bubonic plague is less deadly and causes inflamed, puss-filled lymph nodes which turn into open sores as the condition opens. The condition can spread to the lungs, causing the more dangerous pneumonic plague.
The report further advises countries at risk to strengthen screening processes at their points of entry.