South African travellers to Madagascar should avoid highly populated areas‚ and to wear surgical masks while in transit.
The health department made this warning following an announcement by the World Health Organisation that there were 449 confirmed cases of an outbreak of plague in Madagascar‚ with 48 deaths.
There was international concern regarding infection with the bacterium after a South African basketball player‚ who was attending the Indian Ocean Club Championships‚ contracted plague while there. A coach from the Seychelles attending the tournament had died.
The basketball player‚ who has not been named‚ was successfully treated in Madagascar and has returned to South Africa. He and his team members are being followed up‚ but the department said they did not pose a risk.
The plague is a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Where plague is endemic‚ it is usually found in rodents and is spread by fleas between rodents or to other mammals.
The department said there were currently no travel restrictions to Madagascar.
In order to prevent the importation of the plague into South Africa‚ several measures had been implemented by the department. These included alerting all airline companies to remain vigilant for suspected ill passengers and enhancing screening measures by port officials to detect ill passengers arriving in the country.
The department also said all provincial outbreak response teams had been alerted to enhance preparedness and implement response measures in the event that a case is detected in the country.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases has the laboratory capacity to diagnose plague and is actively supporting preparedness measures in the country.
The department said travellers to Madagascar should also liberally apply DEET-containing insect repellent to prevent flea bites.
DEET is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents and provides protection against mosquitoes‚ ticks‚ fleas and many biting insects.
The department said the administration of preventative antibiotics was not advised.
All travellers returning from Madagascar must monitor their health for 15 days and seek medical care immediately at their nearest health facility if they developed fever‚ chills‚ head and body aches‚ painful and inflamed lymph nodes‚ shortness of breath with coughing or blood-tainted sputum.
The department said there was also a risk of contracting malaria through bites from infected mosquitoes while in Madagascar. This made insect bite prevention doubly important. “All returning travellers with fever must be tested for malaria.”
Source: TMG Digital.