Congo: February 21, 2005


The World Health Organization is reporting a serious outbreak in the Congo of pneumonic plague. WHO says at least 60 people have died from the disease and several hundred are ill. This is the more easily spread version of the infamous Black Death that killed over a third of Europe's population in the 14th century. Pneumonic plague is spread via tiny particles people expel when they breathe out (instead of via infected fleas). While plague is a bacterial infection, that can be cured by antibiotics, but in vast, lawless areas of Congo, there are no antibiotics, and there is pneumonic plague.

The center of the outbreak is a diamond mine at Zobia in the northeastern Congo--yup, right in the middle of the violence, chaos, and factional wars. Around 7,000 people work at the mine or in the immediate area, so if 400 to 500 people have been infected, the danger of a virulent "breakout" is very real. A subsequent report said the mine was re-opened in early December 2004 and the first case of pneumonic plague was discovered December 20. WHO and the CDC have sent health teams and disease investigation teams. UN peacekeepers in the area ought to detail troops to protect the these teams. Thousands of people are fleeing the plague area, some of them taking the plague with them.

Meanwhile, in the northeast, renewed fighting between peacekeepers, army units and various rebel militias, has caused some 50,000 civilians to flee the area. 


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