The emergence of several infectious diseases, including plague, has been reported in the Libyan city and port of Tobruk. A medical source at the city's central hospital, said that at least 4 confirmed cases of plague have been isolated at the medical hospital while there are 17 other, as yet unconfirmed, cases. Bubonic plague is a zoonotic disease of man that can be fatal and in past centuries caused the Black Plague that decimated the populations of Europe and Asia. The disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis found in rats and mice and transmitted to humans by the bite of fleas that carry the disease from the rodents. The disease has persisted in parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, including the U.S.A., with outbreaks often resulting in fatalities.
In 2009 there was an outbreak of bubonic plague on the outskirts of Tobruk, which resulted in deaths and in Libya in 1976, Jordan 1997 and Saudi Arabia 2005 outbreaks of plague resulted from transmission of Y. pestis from camels. In these cases the disease was spread by slaughtering camels, eating infected meat and by transmission from camel fleas. Infection from the meat of an infected goat has also been reported in Libya in 1976. There is no information at present of the source of the current infection in Tobruk but it may involve camels.
The manifestations of plague in these cases are not stated but are likely to be bubonic in nature causing the characteristic, painful swelling of lymph nodes in the groin and armpits (the bubo). In the absence of pneumonia spread from the local node, person-to-person transmission in bubonic plague does not occur.
The Egyptian authorities are taking necessary action on the Egyptian-Libyan border to prevent the transmission of this zoonotic disease into Egypt and an official quarantine has been imposed at the alternate port of Salloum. The fear of the spread of the disease in Egypt will be the biggest focus with the re-emergence of the disease plague, and this has contributed to the current lawlessness taking place on the Libyan-Egyptian border.