When the word “plague” is mentioned, most people probably think about the “Black Death” which killed nearly one-third of the people living in Europe and nearly half of the population of China during the 14th Century.
Today it is mostly unknown in most of the Western world, although a few sporadic cases do occur each year. However, news reports about an outbreak in Madagascar show that the disease is still something to be feared. According to the Independent, “In 2012, 256 cases of the disease were recorded and 60 people died, making Madagascar the most severely affected country in the world.”
The disease is spread by the oriental rat flea — Xenopsylla cheopis (Rothschild) — which as its name implies feeds on rats, and prisoners who live in crowded conditions where rats are prevalent are especially at risk, as the following video shows:
According to Christoph Vogt, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, “The chronic overcrowding and the unhygienic conditions in prisons can bring on new cases of the disease. That’s dangerous not only for the inmates but also for the population in general. Rat control is essential for preventing the plague, because rodents spread the bacillus to fleas that can then infect humans. So the relatives of a detainee can pick up the disease on a visit to the prison, and a released detainee returning to his community without having been treated can also spread the disease.”
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