The Black Death, plague, has taken the lives of 39 in the island nation of Madagascar, the Ministry of Health reported on Dec. 12. An AFP article describes the flea-carried illness as having been found in five districts, with over 80 patients infected. AFP quotes sources as stating that the illnesses are predominantly the pneumonic form of the plague.
The Centers for Disease Control details how rats and the fleas that they carry are responsible for the transmission of the bacteria Yersinia pestis, the cause of the plague. Bubonic plague is the most common form of the disease. Untreated, the CDC states, it can spread to other parts of the body, causing septicemic plague and pneumonic plague. Pneumonic plague, which causes pneumonia and heavy coughing, is the only form of the illness that can be spread from human to human. The illness is treatable with antibiotics.
The Black Death arrived in Europe in 1347, via ship, according to a feature on History.com. There had been rumors of an epidemic ravaging the east but the people of the west were unprepared for bubonic plague. The site estimates that one-third of the population of Europe died from the plague in the next five years. The illness continued to return every few generations until modern sanitation practices reduced the numbers of rats in urban centers.
There are occasional cases of plague in the United States. A CDC illustration shows that most cases originate in the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. Through Dec. 7, the CDC reports four cases of plague diagnosed in 2013.