Updated 27 October 2017

Update: Bubonic plague – what is being done in SA?

Since the outbreak of the bubonic plague in Madagascar, authorities have been taking precautionary measures. Here's what South Africans should know.

On 26 October Health24 reported that South Africa was one of nine countries warned by the World Health Organization (WHO) to take precautionary measures against the bubonic plague, which can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

This follows the recent outbreak of the disease in Madagascar.

No additional cases reported

According to the latest situational report issued by the WHO on 20 October and published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), 1 297  infections have been reported to authorities in Madagascar.

At the time of publishing this article, the South African representative at the WHO, as well as the Department of Health could not be reached, but at present we are unaware of any additional cases reported.

The NICD shares the measures the South African National Health Department is taking to prevent the spread of this disease:

  • Airline companies have been alerted to look out for ill passengers.
  • The Civil Aviation Authority is also conducting additional training for members to deal with suspected cases. 
  • Screening procedures have been put into place by port health officials to identify suspected cases arriving in South Africa. 
  • Provincial outbreak teams are on alert, enhancing preparedness and implementing safety measures should suspected cases be detected in South Africa.
  • The NICD will be able to diagnose the plague in their laboratories and is supporting all preparatory measures.

Read more: SA on alert: what you should know about the 'black death' plague

What if I’m travelling to or from Madagascar?

The NICD provides guidelines to those travelling to or returning from Madagascar:

  • Avoid highly populated areas in Madagascar.
  • Apply insect repellent containing the active chemical DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) to prevent flea bites.
  • Monitor your health for 15 days after returning from Madagascar.

When should I see a doctor?

See your doctor immediately if you display any of the following symptoms, and inform them about your recent travels:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Head and body aches
  • Painful, swollen lymph nodes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blood in your sputum

What else should I know?

Even though the bubonic plague sounds terrifying and caused millions of deaths in the past, it can be treated effectively with antibiotics today when detected early enough. 

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