Health chiefs are desperately trying to contain a deadly outbreak of airborne plague in Africa that has prompted warnings in nine countries.
More than 1,300 cases have now been reported in Madagascar, health chiefs have revealed, as nearby nations have been placed on high alert.
Two thirds of those are suspected to be pneumonic – described as the ‘deadliest and most rapid form of plague’, World Health Organization figures show.
The deadly disease is caused by the same bacteria that wiped out at least 50 million people in Europe in the 1300s.
However, the lethal form currently spreading is different to the bubonic strain which was behind history’s Black Death. Pneumonic can spread through coughing and can kill within 24 hours.
The outbreak is moving quickly, with several British holiday hotspots now deemed at risk of the epidemic spreading, including Seychelles, South Africa and La Reunion.
Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Comoros and Mauritius are the six other countries to have received the heightened alert.
It has been reported as many as 50 aid workers are believed to have been among the people infected.
The African branch of the WHO states 93 people have lost their lives to the disease so far, lower than the 124 noted in official UN figures.
A WHO official said: ‘The risk of the disease spreading is high at national level… because it is present in several towns and this is just the start of the outbreak.’
However, amid widespread fears it could reach Europe and wreak havoc, the WHO has stressed the overall global risk is considered to be ‘low’.
How many people have died?
The statement questions the UN figures released last week that warned the plague outbreak has infected less than 1,200.
WHO admitted the outbreaks have centered in cities, including the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo – heightening the risk of it spreading.
Officials are growing concerned as around two thirds of the cases are suspected to be pneumonic plague, spread through coughing, sneezing or spitting.
It is more deadly then the bubonic variation of the disease which killed a third of Europe’s population in the 1300s before being largely wiped out.
Madagascar sees regular outbreaks of the disease, but this one has caused alarm due to how quickly it has spread and a high number of fatalities.