1994 plague in India

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In 1994, a total of 693 suspected bubonic or pneumonic plague cases were reported to WHO by Government of India. These cases were from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi. Positive laboratory test results for Yersinia pestis were reported by India. The outbreak of suspected plague lasted from 26 August 1994 to 18 October 1994. No suspected plague cases were reported in any other country.[1]

Initial reports[edit]

In the first week of August 1994 health officials reported unusually large numbers of deaths of domestic rats in Surat village Gujrat state) 150 kilometers southeast of Surat city. On 21 September 1994 the Deputy Municipal Commissioner of Health(DMCH) for Surat city received a report that a patient had died seemingly due to pneumonic plague. The DMCH of Surat immediately informed his superiors and alerted medical officers in the area where the patient had died. Later that day, a worried caller informed DMCH about 10 deaths in Ved Road residential area and around 50 seriously ill patients admitted to the hospital. This triggered the biggest post-independence migration of people in India with around 300,000 people leaving Surat city in 2 days.[2] [3]

Outbreak of disease and panic[edit]

News of the plague spread through Surat city through the night of 21 September 1994. People were forced to open medical shops and within hours stock of Tetracycline was exhausted. Also rumours spread that the drinking water supply of Surat city was poisoned. This led to unprecedented panic in Surat city and people started fleeing. Indian and international news media also created panic by giving misinformation and exaggerated figures of deaths.[citation needed] The Indian health minister remained silent and the Gujarat chief minister, Chhabildas Mehta, said that the plague was pneumonic and not bubonic without realising that pneumonic plague is more deadly than bubonic plague.[citation needed]

Due to the migration of infected people from Surat city, suspected plague spread to five states. A total of around 52 deaths were reported from India due to this suspected plague outbreak.[4]

Over the course of this event, many flights from India to the nearby Gulf region were suspended and this gave many Indians a bad name. Some countries also put a hold on the imports from India.


A committee under chairmanship of Professor Vulimiri Ramalingaswami was formed by the Government of India to investigate the plague episode. In 1995 the committee submitted the report 'The Plague Epidemic of 1994' to the Government of India. The report concluded that the disease was plague. [5][6] Some other professionals like Satnam Singh(former programme director in the WHO office at New Delhi) disagree with that conclusion.[7] Also the origin of disease could not be traced. Within a few weeks the spread of disease and panic ended. Nevertheless, this 1994 plague episode in India is remembered for the unprecedented panic it caused, both in India and in the international community.[8]


  1. ^ "Update: human plague—India, 1994". MMWR Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 43 (39): 722–723. 7 October 1994. PMID 7935308. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Byrne, Joseph Patrick (2008). Encyclopedia of Pestilence, Pandemics, and Plagues: A-M. ABC-CLIO. pp. 542–543. ISBN 978-0-313-34102-1. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  3. ^ "The Surat Plague and its Aftermath". Godshen Robert Pallipparambil. Retrieved 31 October 2009. 
  4. ^ Burns, John F. (29 September 1994). "With Old Skills and New, India Battles the Plague". New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2009. 
  5. ^ "In Memoriam: Vulimiri Ramalingaswami (1921–2001)" (PDF). Emerging Infectious Diseases 7 (4). July–August 2001. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  6. ^ Ramalingaswami V (December 2001). "Psychosocial effects of the 1994 plague outbreak in Surat, India". Mil Med 166 (12 Suppl): 29–30. PMID 11778425. 
  7. ^ http://www.indianexpress.com/ie/daily/19991220/ina20013.html
  8. ^ Hazarika, Sanjoy (14 March 1995). "Plague's Origins A Mystery". New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2009. 

External links[edit]

  • Jayaraman, K.S. (25 May 2000). "Was it really the plague in Surat?". Tribune India, Chandigarh. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  • Dutt AK, Akhtar R, McVeigh M (July 2006). "Surat plague of 1994 re-examined". Southeast Asian J. Trop. Med. Public Health 37 (4): 755–60. PMID 17121302. 
  • Christopher Wills. Plagues, their Origin, History, and Future. London: Flamingo, 1997, ch. 5 (the 1994 plague).
  • Garrett, Laurie. # Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health (Hyperion; 2001) ISBN 0-7868-8440-1