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No cases of plague after rat migration: health ministry

By Khin Myat
July 19 - 25, 2010

NO cases of plague have been detected in rats that died during a mass migration late last month in Bago Division, an official from the Ministry of Health said last week.

Dr Soe Lwin Nyein, director of the ministry’s Epidemiology Department, said on July 12 that the department tested rats that died during the migration, which occurred in Pyu, Kyauktaga and Bago townships, at the National Health Laboratory in Yangon and all came back negative for plague.

No human cases have been reported. The disease is most commonly spread by fleas that live on the rats.

Ko Zaw Lin Myo, 25, who lives near the 45-mile point on the Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw Highway in Bago Division, about one hour north of Yangon, said that on June 23 swarms of rats started coming out from the jungle and ran onto the road and around houses looking for food.

“The rats are the kind with a white underbelly. They were trying to come into our houses so we beat them with sticks,” Ko Zaw Lin Myo said. “Then we cooked them in a curry.”

“The largest swarms of rats could be found at the 42- and 43-mile points on the highway coming from Yangon. Many of the rats were crushed by cars; the road is dirty with the bodies of dead rats,” he said.

The Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw Highway, which opened early last year, is 323 kilometres, or about 200 miles, in length.

Dr Soe Lwin Nyein said that the rats can die during migration when they fight each other for food or as a result of flooding, poisoning and other rat control methods.

While it was not clear what caused the migration, which saw thousands of rats crossing the Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw Highway in Bago Division, Dr Soe Lwin Nyein said encroaching cultivation and the use of fertilisers and pesticides could be to blame.

He added that the weather and human activities can also affect vermin numbers.

“For example, the rat population increased following Cyclone Nargis because there are less snakes around,” he said.
He said that serious cases o the plague have occurred five times in Myanmar in the past 100 years: Thayarwady, Bago Division, in 1935; Thaton, Mon State, in 1937; Nyaunglebin, Bago Division and Yangon, in 1946; and Taunggyi, Shan State, in 1974.

According to a World Health Organisation report released in 2000, Myanmar has experienced cases of plague every year since the 1960s.