The plague in Madagascar — “the deadliest and most rapid form of plague” — suspected by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be Pneumonic, could spread to nine other African countries: South Africa, Seychelles, La Reunion, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Comoros and Mauritius.
Since the latest outbreak of the disease, health officials have setup quarantine facilities for affected patients.
The airborne disease has prompted warnings in nine African countries.
According to Daily Mail, more than 1,300 cases have now been reported in Madagascar and two thirds of those are suspected to be pneumonic, described by WHO as the “deadliest and most rapid form of plague”.
The deadly disease is caused by same bacteria that wiped out at least 50 million people in Europe in the 1300s. It is spread through coughing, sneezing or spitting and can kill within 24 hours.
The spread of the disease is fuelled by relatives dancing with the exhumed dead bodies of their loved ones as part of an ancient ritual. The practice, known as the Famadihana tradition, involves digging up dead relatives, wrapping them in fresh cloth and dancing with them before putting them back underground.
The African division of the WHO says 93 people have so far lost their lives to the disease — a figure lower than the 124 noted in official UN figures.
About 50 aid workers are believed to be among the infected people.
A WHO official said that “The risk of the disease spreading is high at national level… because it is present in several towns and this is just the start of the outbreak”.
However, the lethal form currently spreading is different to the bubonic strain, which was behind history’s Black Death.
Despite the serious risks publicised by the authorities, few in Madagascar question the turning ceremonies and dismiss the advice
“I have participated in at least 15 Famadihana ceremonies in my life, and I’ve never caught the plague,” said participant Josephine Ralisiarisoa, who insisted the plague risk had been exaggerated. “I don’t want to imagine the dead like forgotten objects. They gave us life.”
Madagascar sees regular outbreaks of plague, which tend to start in September, with around 600 cases being reported each year on the island. However, this year’s outbreak has seen it reach the Indian Ocean island’s two biggest cities, Antananarivo and Toamasina.