The plague has already killed nearly 100 people in Madagascar

Children wear face masks at a school in Antananarivo, capital city of Madagascar.
Children wear face masks at a school in Antananarivo, capital city of Madagascar.
Image: AP Photo/Alexander Joe
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Nearly 100 people have died from a plague outbreak on the island of Madagascar.

The death toll from the outbreak has reached 94, with more than 1,100 suspected cases reported, the World Health Organzation told French news agency AFP. With the outbreak making its way through the capital city Antananarivo and other urban areas, medical workers are bracing for even more cases. Panic has already begun to spread.

Just days ago, the WHO reported 74 deaths, and in early October the number of deaths was at 33—an indication of just how quickly the illness has spread. Many of the deaths have been due to more contagious pneumonic plague, transmitted from animals to humans through bacteria. It is the most virulent of the strains, showing flu-like symptoms as it infects the lungs. It is spread to other humans via droplets in the air. If left untreated, it is almost certainly deadly within 72 hours.

The outbreak also contains cases of bubonic plague, the less contagious form caused by bites from fleas and infects the lymphatic system. The WHO has sent 1.3 million doses of antibiotics, enough to treat about 5,000 patients and protect a further 100,000.

Still, that has not allayed people’s fears, as they line up to buy masks. The disease has moved from the slums to the more affluent parts of the capital, the Guardian reports. A poor health system and environmental conditions amenable to rodents and fleas make the country prone to outbreak. In 2014, the island suffered an outbreak that killed 79 people and in 2015, 10 people.

The infectious disease, associated with the Black Death of the Middle Ages, has begun to reappear almost annually since 1980 on the impoverished tropical island, according to the World Health Organization. In the last here years, however, the number of cases during the plague season of September to April, has steadily increased.

The World Health Organiszation says it has identified approximately 20 countries vulnerable to plague outbreaks, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. In the last five years, more than 3,000 people have died from the plague around the world, an indication that the illness is not to be resigned to the history books.