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WHO: Plague was limited outbreak

The epidemic of plague that terrified Indians, generated scary headlines and stampeded some nations into weaving a cordon sanitaire around this country last month was, in fact, a limited outbreak, U.S. and Russian public health experts reported Tuesday.

After a 10-day investigation, members of the two-nation fact-finding group said they could not cite a single case of transmission of the dread disease from its epicenter in western India to New Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras or any of India's other major cities, which they said can be considered "plague-free."

Armed with these conclusions, the World Health Organization called for an end to restrictions on air and sea travel and trade with India.

"We are telling the world the same thing we are telling you: that plague has been controlled in India and it is safe to travel here," said WHO acting regional director Samlee Plianbangchang.

Team members, stressing their conclusions are tentative because of their brief study, depicted a public health situation in the wretched, crowded, working-class areas of Surat that was potentially catastrophic but brought under control quickly.

The conclusions are welcome news in India, which reportedly lost more than $1.2-billion in foreign sales because of embargoes and canceled orders linked to the plague.