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Wednesday, August 4, 1999 Published at 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Kazakhstan plagued by fleas

By Central Asia Correspondent Louise Hidalgo

The Kazakhstan authorities announced a state of emergency in the western city of Aktau following an invasion of fleas.

Local authorities say 40% of houses and apartment blocks in the city are infested and that there is not enough money to disinfect them.

It follows the discovery of three cases of bubonic plague in a village in the same region after villagers ate what is believed to have been an infected camel.

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The town of Aktau lies on the shores of the Caspian Sea, on the far western tip of Kazakhstan.

To the east of the town is desert and local officials say the hot summer weather has combined with a lack of fresh water supplies to provide an ideal breeding ground for the fleas.

They say two out of five ground-floor apartments in the city are now infested and that in some areas the situation is so bad that sanitation officers are refusing to venture into the worst affected buildings.

Only last month the region was ravaged by locusts which also spread into Uzbekistan and Russia.

The current problem is being compounded by the chronic lack of money across this vast country, which since the collapse of the Soviet Union has seen the systems which used to prevent such outbreaks crumble and decay.

In Aktau, the situation has been given added urgency by the fact that in a village in the same region there have recently been three reported cases of bubonic plague.

Plague killed millions

The village of Maitakum has been placed under quarantine following the discovery. It is believed that a young boy, his mother and grandmother contracted the disease after eating infected camel meat.

It is the third time this year that there have been reports of bubonic plague in Kazakhstan.

The bacteria is carried by fleas that have fed on the blood of infected rodents.

In the 14th Century an outbreak of bubonic plague, or the Black Death as it was known, spread across Asia and Europe, killing more than 25 million people.

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