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Plague on Decline in Madagascar, 9 Countries on Alert

Antananarivo (November 14, 2017): The plague outbreak in Madagascar is continuing to slow, but nine countries neighboring the island nation are on alert in case the infection reaches their borders.

Since the outbreak began in August, 165 people have died and more than 2,000 have become infected with plague as of Wednesday.Of those infections, 77% were clinically diagnosed as pneumonic — or pulmonary — plague, a form of the infection that can spread from person to person.

Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is typically spread through the bite of infected fleas, which are frequently carried by rats, causing bubonic plague.

Pneumonic plague is more virulent or damaging and is an advanced form characterized by a severe lung infection. The infection can be transmitted via airborne droplets from coughs and sneezes.After a sharp rise in cases in the initial weeks of the outbreak, the number of new cases began to decline in mid-October, according to the World Health Organization.

“After a concerted efforts by the Ministry of Health and partners, we are now seeing a decline in reported plague cases, in the number of people hospitalized with plague and in geographic districts reporting new cases,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

“This trend is encouraging and shows that the quick steps taken to support the Malagasy government to contain the outbreak have been effective,” Jasarevic said.However, nine neighboring countries and territories remain on alert and have been identified by the WHO as priority countries in the African region in terms of ensuring preparedness against the plague.

These countries are Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Reunion island, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania, given they have trade and travel links with Madagascar.

Preparedness involves increased public awareness, enhanced surveillance for the disease — particularly at ports of entry — stocks of drugs and equipment.

“It is normal that neighboring countries and those with direct trade and travel links to review plague preparedness measures given the outbreak in Madagascar,” Jasarevic said.

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