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An Ancient Tradition Of Dancing With Dead Relatives is Helping Spread Deadly a Plaque in Madagascar

An Ancient Tradition Of Dancing With Dead Relatives is Helping Spread Deadly a Plaque in Madagascar | Andrew Agbonlaho

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Published on 07 Nov 2017

RELATIVES dancing with the corpses of their loved ones are helping to spread the plague, officials have warned.

Madagascans have been told to stop the traditional practice of Famadihana, which sees locals dig up deceased relatives and dance with them before they are reburied, The Sun reports.

It is feared the ceremony has helped spread an outbreak of pneumonic plague that has left more than 120 dead on the African island.

Travellers have been warned about the spread of the killer plague, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade urging Australians to speak to their doctor before travelling to Madagascar. It also warns the plague outbreak is restricting people from accessing the Seychelles from Madagascar.

But the ancient practice of Famadihana, which has been translated to the “turning of the bones”, is creating fresh concerns in Madagascar.

The country’s health chief Willy Randriamarotia said: “If a person dies of pneumonic plague and is then interred in a tomb that is subsequently opened for a Famadihana, the bacteria can still be transmitted and contaminate whoever handles the body.”

The tradition has been banned since the plague outbreak began, but it is feared ceremonies have taken place regardless.

Some locals are openly dismissing the advice.

“I have participated in as least 15 Famadihana ceremonies and I’ve never caught the plague,” one person said.

The latest warning came as British aid workers said the epidemic would get worse before it got better.

“The epidemic is ahead of us, we have not yet reached the peak,” Olivier Le Guillou of Action Against Hunger said.

As many as 50 aid workers are believed to have been among the 1200 people infected with the more dangerous airborne pneumonic strain of the disease.

Warnings have been issued for nine countries surrounding Madagascar amid fears the disease could spread via sea trade and flight routes.

Those countries are Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros.

The medieval disease notoriously wiped out one third of Europe’s population in the 13th and 14th centuries in one of the most devastating pandemics in human history known as the Black Death.

Dr Ashok Chopra, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas, told The Sun Online the crisis in Madagascar had yet to peak.

He warned it was possible for the deadly plague to move further into the region given the regular flights going in and out of the country.

“If they are travelling shorter distances and they’re still in the incubation period, and they have the pneumonic (form) then they could spread it to other places,” Dr Chopra said.

“We don’t want to have a situation where the disease spreads so fast it sort of gets out of control.”


Plague is an infectious disease caused by bacteria usually found in small mammals and their fleas.

It has an extremely high fatality rate and is very infectious, although it can be treated by antibiotics if it’s caught early.

There are three forms of plague infection: pneumonic plague, septicaemic plague and bubonic plague, the most common form.

Bubonic plague was known as the Black Death in medieval Europe, where an outbreak brought entire civilisations to their knees and decimated the world’s population.

Black Death is spread through the bite of infected fleas, whereas pneumonic plague, the most contagious form, develops after a bubonic infection.

Pneumonic infections can then be spread through the air, while septicaemic plague occurs when infection spreads through the bloodstream.

The three different types of plague all refer to different ways the disease can be spread.

In bubonic infections, plague-causing bacteria can be transmitted between animals and fleas, with infected fleas then passing the disease on to people through bites.

Infected people may then develop pneumonic plague once their bubonic infection becomes advanced.

Lung-based pneumonic plague can then sometimes be transmitted through the air between sufferers.

Following a pneumonic or bubonic infection, people can then develop septicaemic plague, which occurs when the infection spreads through the bloodstream.

The World Health Organisation describes plague symptoms as “flu like”, with one to seven days between incubation and the symptoms emerging.

Sufferers are likely to have painful lymph nodes, chills, fever, headaches, weakness and fatigue.

In bubonic sufferers, these inflamed lymph nodes may end up turning into pus-filled open sores.

Bubonic plague is fatal in 30 to 60 per cent of cases, while the pneumonic kind is always fatal, if left untreated.

Updated By : Andrew Agbonlaho on 07 Nov 2017