ANTANANARIVO : A plague spread by rats has killed 39 people in recent weeks in Madagascar, the health ministry said Thursday. “There is an epidemic in Madagascar which is currently affecting five districts (out of 112). Eighty-six people have been inflicted by the plague, of which 39 have died,” said the ministry in a statement read to AFP. A doctor in the ministry in Antananarivo said 90 percent of the cases were diagnosed as pneumonic plague, a vicious strain, which can kill within three days, leaving little time for antibiotics to work.

The first person died before November but government only officially declared the existence of a plague on November 23. According to the doctor, who cannot be named because he does not have clearance to speak to the media, the first case was registered in a village in the remote region of Mandritsara.