Plague Patients Flee Hospital; They’re Afraid of Needles

(Alex Eriksen, Yahoo) Plague patients are fleeing hospitals in Madagascar because they’re afraid of getting shots.

Plague patients are fleeing hospitals in Madagascar because they’re afraid of getting shots. PHOTO: NIAID, CC

This has health officials worried, because the disease is highly contagious. Everyone who comes into contact with an infected person has to be treated.

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At least one patient escaped and made it all the way home before being forced back into an ambulance by authorities and taken back to the hospital.

“People here are not used to the hospital,” explains deputy Jean Benoit Manhes. “The problem of plague is not just a medical response. You can have hospitals but if people don’t come it isn’t enough.”

The death toll has reached 171 and another 2,119 are infected.

Surrounding nations have been told to anticipate the possibility of the outbreak spreading. The disease, which returns to Madagascar every year and infects an average 600 people each season, is transmitted by coughing and sneezing.

Pneumonic plague is a severe lung infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Symptoms can include weakness, fever, coughing, and chest pains. If gone untreated, it can be fatal within 36 hours of symptoms appearing.

What may be making matters even worse in Madagascar is an ancient tradition called Famadihana, in which bodies of deceased relatives are dug up by their loved ones and cleaned, shrouded, and reburied.

Efforts to safely bury the bodies of those who die from the plague have met with resistance. Health officials want to bury those who die them  in sealed body bags, but they run into trouble from families seeking traditional burials.

“If a person dies of pneumonic plague and is then interred in a tomb that is subsequently opened for a Famadihana, the bacteria can contaminate whoever handles the body,” explains Willy Randriamarotia, the Madagascan health ministry’s chief of staff.

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