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J Public Health Policy. 1998;19(2):184-99.

Plague that never was: a review of the alleged plague outbreaks in India in 1994.

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All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Calcutta.


Judging by WHO criteria, there was not a single case in India in 1994 that could be taken as a confirmed case of plague. Both clinical and epidemiological features of the illness alleged to be plague were not at all compatible with those of plague-both bubonic and pneumonic types. The bacteriologic and serological evidence was limited to a few cases, and doubtful. PCR is a highly sensitive test, but the specificity of PCR for plague was not verified under field conditions in India. Just by the demonstration of the presence of a causative organism in the environment or in the body tissue, one cannot substantiate occurrence of an infection or disease in man. In view of the assessment and review presented in this paper, one can conclude that the outbreaks of illness that resembled plague during late 1994 in Beed District and Surat were certainly not due to plague. If the Mamla outbreak had not been declared to be plague, the probability of the Surat illness being labeled as plague was negligible. Whatever happened provides a very important lesson of the harm that can occur nationally and globally from decisions based on inadequate or incorrect information.

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