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Last Updated

10 Jul 2003

Source: BBC News, July 10, 2003

Algeria hit by plague outbreak

UN health officials are helping Algeria to investigate an outbreak of plague in the west of the country which has claimed at least one life.  A team from the World Health Organization and other international bodies went to the Oran region after reports of plague emerged last month.

Algeria's health ministry has announced 10 laboratory-confirmed cases to date and one probable case.

France, the former colonial power which has a large ethnic Algerian community, has tightened sanitary controls at its ports to guard against contaminated rats and insects.

The WHO said preliminary studies had been carried out but more work was needed to establish the source of the plague which has taken both bubonic and septicaemic forms.

Of the 10 confirmed cases, eight were of bubonic plague and two of the deadlier septicaemic kind, one of which proved fatal. Sufferers are being treated at Oran's University Hospital Centre.

Effective treatments

The French health ministry said in a recent report that no cases of plague had surfaced in France itself but it was taking precautions at ports. It also reminded travellers to take greater precautions if visiting areas with a plague risk.

Plague is primarily a disease of rodents which can affect humans, the WHO notes. It is transmitted between rodents by rodent fleas and can be transmitted to people through infected rodent flea bites as well as through direct contact with infected animal tissue.

If the disease is left untreated, the probability of death can be as great as 60%. However, effective treatment methods such as antibiotics and supportive therapy enable almost all plague patients to be cured if diagnosed in time.