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Plague in Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo

09 Oct 2019

Medical and scientific investigators in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have reported an oubreak of plague in Aru Health Zone, Ituri Province via ProMED-mail.  A die-off of guinea pigs and other rodents was noticed on 25 September 2019 and four people belonging to one family were subsequently found to have plague. One family member, a 15 year old boy, died of his illness on 26 September.

Advice for Travellers

Plague is rare in international travellers.

  • Travellers visiting areas where plague occurs, or where there is an outbreak should be aware of the risk of infection.
  • The risk may be highest in those who are camping, staying in very basic rural accommodation, hunting or who may have close contact with wildlife, particularly rats or other rodents.
  • Contact with infected people during an outbreak is also a significant risk.
  • Three types of plague occur, all caused by the same bacterium, Yersinia pestis.
    • Bubonic plague spreads from animals to humans by flea bites or other skin penetration, so travellers should practice good insect bite avoidance. Close contact with sick or dead animals should be avoided.
    • People become infected with pneumonic plague by breathing in plague bacteria in droplets coughed into the air by a person (or animal) already infected. Pneumonic plague is the most contagious form of the disease.
    • Septicaemic plague can develop from the other forms of the disease when plague bacteria multiply in the blood and spread throughout the body.

No vaccine is available for plague. The most effective form of prevention is to avoid exposure to infected people or animals. If there is a possibility that a traveller has been exposed to plague, it is important to seek prompt medical attention as soon as possible. Progression of the disease may be prevented with appropriate antibiotic treatment.

Anyone experiencing rapidly progressing fever, chills, headache, weakness, respiratory symptoms, chest pain or swollen lymph nodes should seek prompt medical attention.