Madagascar plague
© Mail Online / Leo Delauncey
Analysis of figures by MailOnline show the plague epidemic in Madagascar could strike a further 20,000 people in just a matter of weeks, if current trends continue
  • The World Health Organization now states there are 1,801 suspected cases
  • This is significantly higher than the 1,309 the agency reported last Thursday
  • Professor Robin May, an infectious diseases expert at Birmingham University, told MailOnline that the outbreak is 'concerning definitely'
  • Analysis of figures by MailOnline show the epidemic could strike a further 20,000 people in just a matter of weeks, if current trends continue
  • The 'unprecedented' outbreak has prompted warnings in 9 nearby countries
The deadly airborne plague spreading rapidly across Madagascar is now at 'crisis' point as cases have rocketed by 37 per cent in just five days, official figures reveal.

The outbreak, the 'worst in 50 years', is being fueled by a strain more lethal than the one which usually strikes the country off the coast of Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) now states there are 1,801 suspected cases - significantly higher than the 1,309 it reported last Thursday.

Academics have revealed such a jump in cases over the period of five days is concerning and have predicted it could get worse. The most recent statistics show there have been 127 deaths.

Professor Robin May, an infectious diseases expert at Birmingham University, told MailOnline that 'whichever way you look' at the outbreak, it's 'concerning definitely'.

Madagascar plague
© MailOnline/ Emily Beeny
More than 1,300 cases have now been reported in Madagascar, health chiefs have revealed, as nearby nations have been placed on high alert

Analysis of figures by MailOnline show the epidemic could strike a further 20,000 people in just a matter of weeks, if current trends continue. It could be made worse by crowds gathering for an annual celebration to honour the dead earlier this week.

The 'truly unprecedented' outbreak has prompted warnings in nine nearby countries - South Africa, Seychelles, La Reunion, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Comoros and Mauritius.

Two thirds of this year's cases have been caused by the airborne pneumonic plague and means it is spread through coughing, sneezing or spitting. It is different to the traditional bubonic form that strikes the country each year.

Madagascar plague
© Mario Santto
Figures show that at least 1,300 cases of the plague have been reported so far in this year's outbreak, with 93 official deaths recorded. However, UN estimates state the toll could be in excess of 120
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Professor Johnjoe McFadden, an expert in molecular genetics at the University of Surrey, said: 'It's a crisis at the moment and we don't know how bad it's going to get.'

Professor Jimmy Whitworth, an international public health scientist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told MailOnline earlier today: 'This outbreak though is the worst for 50 years or more.'

Plague season hits Madagascar each year and still has six months to run, however, this year's outbreak has seen triple the amount of cases that was expected.

This year's outbreak has started earlier as forest fires have driven rats into rural communities, which has then spread into cities for the first time, local reports state.

It comes amid warnings annual celebrations to honour the dead saw large crowds gather in cities, increasing the risk of infection.

All Saints Day, otherwise known as the 'Day of the Dead', is a public holiday which takes place on November 1 each year, sees families often gathering at local cemeteries.

'In that type of situation, it may be easy to forget about respiratory etiquettes,' Panu Saaristo, the International Federation of Red Cross' team leader for health in Madagascar, told MailOnline.

And earlier this week MailOnline revealed the 'Godzilla' El Niño has been blamed for the severity of this year's outbreak by causing freak weather conditions.

Commenting on the WHO figures, Professor May told MailOnline: 'It sounds like a very big increase in five days. It's a serious outbreak and needs careful monitoring.'

'Depending on what position of the curve you're at, you're either going to see a lot more cases or it'll hit the peak and drop down.'

The figures dispute claims by Dr Manitra Rakotoarivony, Madagascar's director of health promotion, that the epidemic is on a downward spiral.

On the same day WHO released its latest situation report, he told local radio: 'There is an improvement in the fight against the spread of the plague, which means that there are fewer patients in hospitals.'