Plague in Madagascar: not good, but not unusual either

Microbiology in the news again. This time it’s an outbreak of the plague in Madagascar, and it’s causing a bit of a stir.
Now, don’t get me wrong – an outbreak of plague is never a good thing – but once again, a little perspective is called for here. Surprise (and if I may be so bold) “surprise”.

Plague is one of those diseases which captures the public’s imagination, with historical tales about the Black Death sweeping across Europe in the Middle Ages and killing an awful lot of people in its path. And because of that history, plague has a cool nickname and a “superstar” disease status, and news outlets – desperate for clicks – are getting overly excited about it, just like they did with Ebola.

But the fact is that plague is not just a historical disease: yes, it was infamously around a few hundred years ago, but it never really went away. As with many diseases, its prevalence has merely declined due to better hygiene, better education, better pest control and better medical treatment. But even in (supposedly) developed countries like the USA, there are still up to 20 documented cases of plague each year. Worldwide, there are a few hundred reported cases each year, with a mortality rate of around 25%. However, it’s likely that there are many more unreported cases, given that it is now primarily a disease found in rural areas of less developed countries.

The bad news is that Madagascar is a less developed country than the USA (albeit that its gun control laws are somewhat better), and this makes outbreaks of plague (or any other infectious disease) more likely to occur there and more difficult to control once they do.

The better news is that while this is a terrible and potentially disastrous situation, at this point, it’s certainly not unusual. Madagascar is the plague capital of the world (look, it’s not a claim that they stick on their tourism posters) with around 80% of the world’s cases each year, and outbreaks occur almost annually around this time of year, as the temperatures start to rise and the rat and flea populations – vectors of the disease – start to increase.
Additionally, because of this recent history, the authorities will be better set up to deal with the outbreak, despite the challenges mentioned above. And as we saw with Ebola in West Africa in 2014, that’s really important. Also, as long as you can get treated promptly, as a bacterial disease, plague is eminently treatable with simple, basic, cheap antibiotics.

I’m in no way belittling a very serious situation, but if you didn’t get all panicky and excited about the plague outbreaks in Madagascar in, say, 2014 and 2015, then right now there’s really no reason to get carried away about this one either.

That big day

With apologies to Jasper Carrott.

It was on a Sunday morning that to Hillsborough we did roam.
I hadn’t got a ticket, so I had to stay at home*.
I loaded up with tele snacks and several crates of beer.
I chucked a toilet roll at next door’s cat for atmosphere.

A nice, uneventful Sheffield United win would be perfect. But local derbies don’t always go that way, of course…

And just as a note, yesterday’s was an interesting evening. I’m just putting that here to remind me to tell you about it.

 

* Actually going to a friend’s house to watch it on his imax style tv.

Derby

And thus, I find myself in Sheffield at the time of the Steel City Derby. This, in case you were unaware, is the name given to any football match between The Mighty Sheffield United and our porcine neighbours Sheffield Wednesday.
It’s been a while since the last one, because the teams have been in different divisions in the football league. However, with United’s promotion last time out, the derby is back on, and it’s big news. And yes, it’s great for the city, but I can’t help but feel that the media frenzy around this particular episode has gone a bit over the top. As media frenzy is wont to do.

Obviously – obviously – I want United to win. But as time has gone on, I have to admit that the results of these sort of big games have become less important to me. I’m old enough to have seen many Steel City Derbies. I’ve seen us win some, I’ve seen us lose some, and – and hold onto your seats here, folks – I’ve seen some draws as well. Incredible.

And yet – no matter the scoreline in these games – football, life, friendships (even with those from the other lot), and the constant threat of nuclear apocalypse all continue.

It’s not that it doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. It matters a lot and for those 90 minutes, there will be nothing else on my mind. (In fact, there is a part of my mind that is nagging away at me, suggesting that maybe it actually matters too much and that’s why I’m trying to convince myself that I’m not bothered.)

It’s just that when it’s over, there will still also be other things that matter. Whatever the result, I will still support Sheffield United. Other (weird, misguided) individuals will still support the other team. Workplace banter, which has peaked in the run-up to the game, will slowly decline again. Life will continue.

And then in January, we’ll do it all over again (but I’ll be back in Cape Town for that one).

9/11

Yes I’m travelling by plane again today, so I don’t really want to think about this sort of thing, but equally, I’m going to be very short of time to blog, so I’m just going to direct you to this (long, but worth it) read, titled:

‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’

and subheaded:

Where was the president in the eight hours after the Sept. 11 attacks? The strange, harrowing journey of Air Force One, as told by the people who were on board.

It’s very good.

Dubai

I’m flying to Dubai today, and that’s got me quite excited.

Travelling is exciting anyway, but Dubai is especially thrilling.

Reason: Loads of ANC-related people seem to have gone to Dubai in the past, and returned with lavish gifts, bonuses, jobs and property. (Not literally property, obviously, but the legal documentation thereof.)

Now, I’m not an ANC-related person, but I really don’t see how this will adversely affect my chances of hitting the big time in the commercial hub of the Middle East. It seems to me that all I have to do is attend a meeting that I will thereafter swear never took place, say yes to the right people, and suddenly Atul and Ajay are my metaphorical uncles.

Ker – if you’ll bear with me for one more moment – Ching.

I can’t wait. I might even take a R600m bribe if when I’m offered it.
Well, it’d be rude and wholly ethical not to, wouldn’t it?

And I’d hate to be rude.

I’ll be back presently, and in the meantime, blog posts will obviously continue, as they always do. Once I’m completely captured, I’ll be able to travel a lot more to Dubai, launching 6000.ae before potentially retiring there and avoiding numerous criminal charges.
Impunity and immunity can like to be my middle names.

I mean, have you seen their extradition policy with SA?
No? Exactly.