Madagascar plague: WHO places nine countries on high alert
And WHO officials, who have been working with Madagascar’s Ministry of Health, warn the risk of the epidemic spreading is “high”.
Plague – a terrifying bacterial infection transmitted by fleas – is nothing new in Madagascar, where about 600 cases are reported annually.
A map highlighting countries on high alert after a Black Death outbreak in Madagascar
WHO official warn the chances of a the plague spreading are ‘high’
It’s a bit like trying to hit a moving target from a moving car
But he said the disease has now spread to parts of Madagascar which had not seen the plague since at least 1950.
Scientists are now working round the clock to predict the next outbreak and prevent it becoming a global epidemic and putting millions of life at risk.
But Australian researchers have warned it is impossible to predict a global outbreak because there are too many variables.
Jemma Geoghegan from Macquarie University and Edward Holmes from the University of Sydney said efforts will fail because the enormous number of unknown viruses could evolve and appear in humans at any time.
WHO doctors are working around the clock to contain the outbreak
“Once a virus achieves human-to-human transmission, it’s really just a matter of luck as to how severe and contagious it is, and whether or not it can be treated quickly.
“Both humans and diseases are constantly changing, so it’s a bit like trying to hit a moving target from a moving car.
“We’re trying to predict really, really rare events from not much information, which I think is going to fail.”
She pointed out that scientists discovered the Zika virus in Uganda in 1947 yet there was an outbreak on the other side of the world, in Brazil, two years ago.
It is highly infectious and spreads through transmission of bodily fluids, causing a gruesome death as the whole body haemorrhages.
Other diseases can emerge out of the blue like the SARS virus — a severe form of pneumonia — which broke out in China after a researcher accidentally caught it in a lab in 2002.
HIV, a sexually transmitted virus which attacks the body’s immune system, has claimed an estimated 35 million lives in the past 40 years.
And the most famous of all outbreaks was the Spanish Influenza pandemic, which killed up to 100 million people — five per cent of the world’s population — in 1918.