No, you did not misread the headline to this story. Not only does the bubonic plague still exist, but it’s infected hundreds of individuals on the island of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa. In fact, this is nearly an annual occurrence for the island nation. Unlike the plague of the past, however, this form is not only harder to contain but can kill nearly 24 hours after initial exposure.

The Black Death

At one point in time the bubonic plague was the single most terrifying disease on the planet. Also known as the Black Death, this bacterial infection literally shaped Europe into the continent we recognize today after killing off an unbelievable 60 percent of its population in the 14th century. Like all things in life, however, the reign of the Black Death could not last forever, and today, thanks to recent medicine, it is barely a shadow of its former self.

Modern medicine has made it so that the plague that once killed six in 10 people now has an 85 percent survival rate. The plague is caused by a bacterium found mainly in rodents, and because it’s impossible (and not advisable) to kill every rat on the planet, it’s likely that remnants of the plague will persist forever. While the random occurrence of the plague is expected, outbreaks are completely unnecessary, according to World Health Organization director Margaret Chan, and they're what the WHO "was designed to contain." So far, they haven’t been able to do a very good job of this. The death rate of the plagues has nearly doubled since the outbreak first began in November of last year, Reuters reported.

As reported by Vice, the plague, has, well, plagued Madagascar on a near annual basis since the early 1990s. Madagascar is not alone in its plague resurgence, though, since even places as developed as New York City are home to rat species known to carry the pathogen. However, the widespread poverty, unplanned urbanization, and poor health care in Madagascar has helped to propel a few isolated instances of the bubonic plague into a full-blown outbreak. Even worse, the WHO warns that if something isn’t done fast the spread of the plague in urban areas of the countries will rapidly increase.

Why The Rest Of The World Should Be Concerned

Unfortunately, it seems that the preservation of human life is not enough for an event to gain widespread recognition. Still, this form of the plague is not your average bacterial infection, and it's best to stop it before it reaches pandemic proportions.

One of the most “disturbing dimensions” of the current outbreak, according to Chan, is that the species of fleas which carry it have developed an immunity against the insecticide deltamethrin. On top of being immune to our first line of defense, this form of the plague, the pneumonic plague kills with incredible speed. Within 24 hours of being infected death is a high possibility. Back in November, only around two percent of reported plague cases were of the pneumonic form, but Vice reported this number has since risen. The pneumonic plague also doesn’t need a flea host to spread and can be transmitted from person to person via coughing.

"It doesn't spread quite as much as the flu in this case," Dr. Stephen Morse, epidemiology professor at Columbia University, told Vice, adding that it it's a "much more efficient transmission method than being bitten by fleas."

Early intervention is the best bet in both treating and preventing the spread of the plague. It’s been reported that together, the WHO and the local partner it supports, Institut Pasteur, have created an inexpensive test that brings back a plague diagnosis in 15 minutes. Hopefully, this will help to reduce the death toll and control the spread of the condition.

Correction: The original story inaccurately cited that the plague had killed hundreds in Madagascar in the current outbreak. It has been modified to instead reflect the number of reported cases, not deaths.