Authorities in Madagascar are struggling to contain an outbreak of a plague that has killed at least 54 people and infected around 500 more.

The Madagascar government has begun a campaign to disinfect school classrooms in the city. October, 3, 2017
The Madagascar government has begun a campaign to disinfect school classrooms in the city. October, 3, 2017 (AP)

Authorities in Seychelles say a man was diagnosed with pneumonic plague after returning from Madagascar, where a plague outbreak has killed dozens of people.

The Seychelles News Agency reported on Wednesday that the patient arrived on the main island of Mahe on an Air Seychelles flight on October 6. The airline has since suspended its Madagascar flights.

The agency says Seychelles health officials are monitoring 258 people, including passengers and crew from the flight carrying the man who fell ill, as well as his family members and patients at a health centre where he went.

Plague outbreak

Those who died in Madagascar include a basketball coach from Seychelles who was participating in a tournament in the capital, Antananarivo. The outbreak began after a plague death in Madagascar's central highlands in late August.

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.

The outbreak began after the death of a 31-year-old man in Madagascar's central highlands in late August.

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.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies