Pneumonic plague has already infected 2,000 in Madagascar and killed 143 in the country’s worst outbreak in 50 years. A strain of plague which has already killed more than 140 Madagascar could mutate and become untreatable, an expert has warned.
There are fears the disease could spread to Europe and America via plane travel as Ebola did in 2014, with ten African nations already put on alert for signs of infection.
Now Professor Paul Hunter has warned that, while it would be easy for an advanced country to contain the disease in its current form, he fears that it could evolve into something far more dangerous.
Hunter, a disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told the Daily Star: ‘If it reaches the UK, Europe or the US it would be similar to the Ebola outbreak.
‘We would have a few isolated cases but it shouldn’t spread like it has in Madagascar.
‘As with any disease, it’s a real worry that it mutates and become untreatable.’
In total 2,000 people have been infected and 143 killed during the current outbreak in Madagascar which is the country’s worst for 50 years.
The majority of those cases have been pneumonic plague, a more-deadly form of the bubonic plague which devastated Europe’s population in the 1300s.
While the bubonic plague is spread through the bites of infected fleas, pneumonic plague is spread through the air, usually by coughing.
Symptoms include severe fever, headaches and coughing, with patients often coughing up blood.
It can be fatal within 72 hours of infection, though can also be cured with a course of antibiotics if administered quickly.
Despite fears the plague could spread to other countries, there are signs that the infection in Madagascar is slowing down.
Dr. Manitra Rakotoarivony, Madagascar’s director of health promotion, said: ‘There is an improvement in the fight against the spread of the plague, which means that there are fewer patients in hospitals.
‘There are almost no more deaths due to the plague… in recent days.’
Health checkpoints are in place across the country, with passengers travelling on buses and taxis needing to pass a check with a thermometer.
Banks and schools have a similar check, and the trade of infrared thermometers has soared, with prices of 100,000 to 220,000 ariary (27-60 euros, $31-$69).
Schools and universities have been closed with a ban issued on public gatherings.
The current outbreak is unusual as it has affected urban areas increasing the risk of transmission, according to the World Health Organization.
WHO has delivered 1.2 million doses of antibiotics to fight the disease while the Red Cross has been training hundreds of volunteers on the island to publicise preventative measures.