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French, Malagasy Scientists Develop New Plague Test - 2003-01-17

Scientists in France and Madagascar have developed an easy, reliable test to diagnose the plague, a sometimes fatal disease most common in developing countries, but feared to be a potential bioterrorist weapon.

Researchers from the Pasteur Institute in France and the Madagascar Health Ministry say their new test is rapid, always accurate, inexpensive, and easy to use.

They report in the journal Lancet that it uses a stick that changes color when dipped into blood and immune system fluid because it reacts to a protein plague bacteria give off.

The researchers say use of the test in remote areas could reduce plague sickness and death.

The disease is usually transmitted to people by the bites of fleas infected by rodents. The World Health Organization says about 3,000 cases occur each year in developing countries, causing about 200 deaths.

The U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control says the test is expected to be available soon in plague-infested locations worldwide. It also says it will play an important role in preparations to combat bioterrorism.