The bubonic plague has already claimed 124 lives and nine countries have been warned about its spread.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on October 27, 2017

Plague warnings have been issued for nine countries surrounding Madagascar amid fears the disease could spread via sea trade and flight routes.

The Sun reports the bubonic plague outbreak is considered a much bigger threat to the region than in previous years. This is because it has taken on its pneumonic form – meaning it is airborne and spread by sneezing and coughing.

Due to its trade and travel links with Madagascar, South Africa has been warned by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to prepare for the deadly spread. The other eight countries at risk include the Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, France’s La Réunion, the Seychelles, and Tanzania.

The National Office for Risk and Disaster Management (BNGRC) reports 124 people have already died in Madagascar and there have been 1,192 cases of infection. If left untreated, there is a 30-100% chance of death within 72 hours.

Black death is spread through the bite of an infected flea and cases are reported every year in the epidemic season, which usually runs from September to April.

According to News24, the risk of regional spread is moderate, while the overall global risk is very low.

Dancing with the dead

Newsweek reports a Madagascan tradition known as ‘the turning of the bones‘, could heighten the risk of the disease spreading.

The unusual practice involves families exhuming the bones of their deceased relatives, rewrapping them with fresh cloth, and dancing with the wrapped corpses before returning the remains to their resting place.

“If a person dies of pneumonic plague and is then interred in a tomb that is subsequently opened for a famadihana, the bacteria can still be transmitted and contaminate whoever handles the body,” Willy Randriamarotia, the chief of staff in Madagascar’s health ministry, told AFP.