Madagascans battle to evade growing plague outbreak

October 11, 2017

The little footbridge near Justin Rakatoarivony's home is submerged in a murky green liquid the texture of sewage.

But he has no choice but to cross it every day on his way to work in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.

The filthy conditions in his area, the southern Ampefiloha district, make him worry that he will be the next victim of the plague outbreak sweeping the country.

His fear is far from unfounded: the disease has already killed 25 people in Antananarivo since August, according to the health ministry.

"The plague is a disease that comes from the filth, because the filth attracts rats, and rats carry fleas which transmit the plague to humans," said Rakotoarivony, 45.

"I fear getting the plague here, but I don't have any choice, I have to cross this bridge every day, so I do it at speed."

Rakotoarivony is one of many on the Indian Ocean island nation who are increasingly fearful of the unusually virulent outbreak that has so far killed 54 people nationwide and infected 276 in the capital and its outskirts.

Everyone who crosses the bridge puts on a brave face despite the flow of brackish water and domestic rubbish beneath.

"The plague can kill in 12 hours," Edmond Rakotondrasoa, 46, a used-phone salesman, told AFP.

"But I'm not scared because I'm a believer and God wrote in the Bible, 'I will protect you from all epidemics'."

Scrap-metal merchants do business beside the accumulated detritus near the canal without a thought for the unhygienic surroundings.

Madagascar's outbreak includes bubonic plague, in which the germ Yersinia pestis is spread by infected rats via fleabites, and pneumonic plague, a particularly dangerous form which spreads from person to person via airborne droplets.

One of the traders there has already been diagnosed as a carrier of pneumonic plague.

The individual was hospitalised in a specialist clinic in Antananarivo—but discharged himself before completing his treatment.

'Spitting blood'

"Following our efforts to raise awareness about the plague, a group brought in a 24-year-old man who was spitting blood," said Rabenjaminahobianintra Harimanana, head doctor at the Isotry Central health clinic.

"Tests (for plague) came back positive, so after being given initial treatment he was sent to the Ambohimiandra Anti-plague Clinic.

"But he escaped from the centre and was seen once again trading in the market."

Authorities sought to reason with him, but he fled again.

He was declared a wanted man but is still at large.

"He was scared because he was a repeat offender who had been released from prison," said Harimanana.

"We alerted the police so they can return him to hospital if they find him."

Hanitra Randrianarison, a senior medical official in Antananarivo, said "this fugitive patient risks spreading the disease very quickly to anyone who gets within two metres (six foot) of him."

President Hery Rajaonarimampianina on Tuesday described tackling the plague in military terms.

"We are at war... and today I think we have the weapons and munitions to fight this epidemic," he said in his first public comments on the crisis as he visited affected areas.

The current crisis was sparked on August 28 after a single fatality in the central town of Ankazobe. The victim, a passenger in a public taxi, passed away as the vehicle travelled across the country.

They infected two other passengers who died at the beginning of September in Tamatave, a town on the island's east coast that had gone for 100 years without a single recorded instance of the plague.

Now some 500 cases of plague have been identified nationwide, prompting authorities to take drastic measures.

'A baseless rumour'

Passengers at Antananarivo's transport hubs are subject to medical inspections, infected areas have been fumigated to kill fleas, public gatherings are banned, and schools and universities have been shut.

"Local health inspectors are working to identify people infected with the plague and to inform people about the importance of hygiene and cleanliness," said Randrianarison.

"All of the local communities in Antananarivo have been taking part in a city-wide clean-up drive."

This week, the health ministry trained 384 local health inspectors to deal with plague in Antananarivo.

Among them was Norosoa Raharimalala, who works in Ivandry district in the capital's north.

Unlike some of those who live and walk alongside the filthy Andriantany canal, the people of Ivandry have been panicked by the plague outbreak, according to Norosoa.

They no longer shake hands to greet one another, and avoid standing close to each other.

"It takes a plague for people in our area to appreciate cleanliness and hygiene," said Raharimalala.

Explore further: Plague closes 2 Madagascan universities

Related Stories

Plague closes 2 Madagascan universities

October 5, 2017
Madagascan authorities Thursday ordered two universities to close temporarily as efforts intensify to halt a plague outbreak that has killed 33 people and caused widespread panic.

Madagascar plague death toll climbs to 30

October 4, 2017
An outbreak of high contagious plague has claimed 30 lives in the impoverished Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar over the last two months, authorities said Wednesday.

Plague-hit Madagascar bans jail visits

October 6, 2017
Authorities in Madagascar Friday announced a ban on prison visits to prevent the spread of a plague epidemic that has killed 36 people in the Indian Ocean island.

Five die as plague resurfaces in Madagascar

September 15, 2017
Pneumonic plague has killed five people in Madagascar since August, a top health official told AFP on Thursday, but stressed the situation was under control.

Plague kills 19 in Madagascar

September 28, 2017
An outbreak of plague in Madagascar has killed 19 people and may have infected 85 others in just two months, the Indian Ocean island nation's health minister said Thursday.

Madagascar plague kills 24, triggering WHO fears

October 1, 2017
The World Health Organisation said Sunday it was boosting its response to a plague outbreak in Madagascar that has killed 24 people, as the government banned public meetings to reduce infections.

Recommended for you

Study predicts 2018 flu vaccine will have 20 percent efficacy

April 19, 2018
A Rice University study predicts that this fall's flu vaccine—a new H3N2 formulation for the first time since 2015—will likely have the same reduced efficacy against the dominant circulating strain of influenza A as the ...

Zika presents hot spots in brains of chicken embryos

April 19, 2018
Zika prefers certain "hot spots" in the brains of chicken embryos, offering insight into how brain development is affected by the virus.

Low-cost anti-hookworm drug boosts female farmers' physical fitness

April 19, 2018
Impoverished female farm workers infected with intestinal parasites known as hookworms saw significant improvements in physical fitness when they were treated with a low-cost deworming drug. The benefits were seen even in ...

Super-superbug clones invade Gulf States

April 18, 2018
A new wave of highly antibiotic resistant superbugs has been found in the Middle East Gulf States, discovered by University of Queensland researchers.

Of mice and disease: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria discovered in NYC house mice

April 17, 2018
A study by scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health finds New York City house mice carry bacteria responsible for mild to life-threatening gastroenteritis ...

Discovery explains how the chickenpox and shingles virus remains dormant

April 16, 2018
A research team led by UCL and Erasmus University has found a missing piece to the puzzle of why the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles can remain dormant for decades in human cells.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.