Pest in Zaïre

PG Janssens, SR Pattyn

Research output: Contribution to journalA2: International peer reviewed article (not A1-type)peer-review


'Plague in Zaire': Two endemic foci of plague have been discovered in Zaire, the first in the Ituri in 1928, the other in North-Kivu in 1938. They are situated in the region of the great East-African Rift and are adjacent to the Ugandan focus, identified in 1877. A strict surveillance of these endemic foci makes it possible to state that, between 1928 and 1959, 632 cases of plague have been diagnosed in the Ituri, or 20 a year, and 190 in the N-Kivu, or 8 a year. Since then several flare ups have been notified. This situation is very remote from the 'black death' concept. Yersinia pestis presents, besides its bipolar staining, many other characteristics such as the indispensable presence of iron to produce virulence, or the fermentation of glycerine and reduction of nitrates as parameters for the identification of 3 biovars, corresponding with a specific geographic distribution: antiqua, medievalis, orientalis or maritima. The antigenic structure has been discussed and also the role of plasmids. Plague is a disease of rats, a variegated gathering of rodents with different degrees of tolerance and sensitiveness to Y.pestis, living in a frail equilibrium. The multimammate houserat was in the Ituri the principal agent until the black rat Rattus rattus invaded the region and a new balance came into being. The frequent changes in taxonomy of Mastomys caused uncertainties. The transmission is due to fleas subject to a blocking of their ventriculum by Y.pestis. Fleas play an active part in the process. Man is only a casual intruder. The pathogenicity is related to its invasiveness and its intracellular localization in macrophages and other R.E. cells, in which Y.pestis can survive. The bubo is characteristic of the disease. In Zaire a septicaemic tendency has been observed, with a possible involvement of the C.N.S. and of the lungs. The latter may produce among the surrounding relatives primary pneumonic plague. The clinical diagnosis ought to be confirmed by bacteriologic investigation of the puncture fluid of the bubo, the blood, and when necessary the C.S.F. or the sputum by culture and/or animal inoculation. The treatment became very efficient since the availability of sulfamides and later antibiotics: aminoglycosides, chloramphenicol, tetracyclines. A timely administration ensures practically recovery. As soon as Y.pestis was identified vaccination was put into practice and in the first place by killed germs (Haffkine's lymph) to day with formalized F1, for mass vaccination live attenuated strains were used: Tjiwidej (Otten), E.V. (Girard), K120 (Grasset). (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)U1 - ARTICLE
Original languageDutch
JournalVerhandelingen Koninklijke Academie voor Geneeskunde van België
Pages (from-to)281-360
Publication statusPublished - 1994


  • B780-tropical-medicine
  • Bacterial diseases
  • Plague
  • History
  • Review of the literature
  • Congo-Kinshasa
  • Africa-Central

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