The Daily Telegraph

Oxford race for plague jab as outbreak hits Madagascar

- By Will Brown and Jennifer Rigby

A PLAGUE outbreak has killed at least seven people in Madagascar, as UK scientists race to develop a new vaccine for the ancient killer.

Dr Fidiniana Randriants­arafara, director-general of preventive medicine, told local media this month that seven people had died and 22 were being treated for pneumonic plague, a form of the disease that affects the lungs.

The outbreak was recorded in the Itasy region in the central highlands of Madagascar late last month. The disease is endemic to the country, and the last outbreak in 2017 infected around 2,400 people and killed at least 209 people.

In the 14th century, the “Black Death”, a bubonic plague, killed up to 200 million people. Caused by a bacteria that spreads from rodents to fleas and onto humans, bubonic plague affects the lymph nodes but can then develop into the pneumonic strain.

Without treatment, the death rate is almost 100 per cent. With treatment, it falls to about 50 per cent.

It comes as a team at Oxford University starts human trials of a plague vaccine. Led by Professor Christine Rollier, now at the University of Surrey, the team uses the same viral vector in its vaccine as in the Oxford-astrazenec­a Covid jab, called Chadox.

Prof Rollier said developing a vaccine was challengin­g because it is a bacterial infection. “I had a few people telling me it would never work,” she said.

However, she is hopeful of a breakthrou­gh, particular­ly as the technology has been proven effective for humans.

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