Flare-up of Rift Valley Fever in the Horn of Africa
FAO experts at work
4 January 2007, Rome – A Nairobi-based FAO team drawn from animal health experts in a number of countries of the Horn of Africa is working with veterinary in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia to address the latest outbreak of Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in the region.
Together with officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and various international aid agencies present in the area, the FAO team is helping draw up preparedness, communication, surveillance and response activities.
Since 1998, when flood-related RVF flared up in the Horn of Africa and encroached into the Arabian Peninsula, FAO has been working to demarcate the areas in sub-Saharan Africa at greatest risk and pinpoint hot spots across East and West Africa to be able to forecast where the next outbreaks will occur and put adequate response strategies in place.
RVF, a mosquito-borne viral disease affecting ruminants and humans has historically occurred in 5-15 year cycles, but with climatic changes -- including succession of droughts and floods or human modifications of the ecosystems -- these intervals could change in the future.
The latest flare-up started in November 2006 in northeastern Kenya, not long after FAO had issued a warning in its EMPRES Watch Bulletin that the disease might again appear in the region.
Apart from the 1998 episode, major outbreaks hit Egypt in 1977 and Senegal and Mauritania in 1987 and 1993-95.
Current activities are receiving technical support from the Crisis Management Centre (CMC), set up in October 2006 to facilitate rapid responses to fast-moving transboundary animal diseases that are highly contagious among animals and may be transmissible to humans.
RVF can cause serious economic losses in livestock, particularly sheep and cattle, although goats, camels, Asian water buffaloes and possibly some wild antelopes are also susceptible.
A wake-up call
Outbreaks of the disease often follow major flooding, since heavy rains trigger a kind of “wake-up call” for the mosquitoes which carry the disease.
Transmission to humans can result from animal slaughtering, trade and traffic in animals and sometimes wind which can help carry the insects long distances.
RVF can take a high toll on animals but can also be fatal for humans. Since the latest outbreak began 47 deaths have been reported in the flood-affected areas of Garissa, the capital of Kenya’s North Eastern province.
The Kenyan Ministry of Health, with international support, is distributing mosquito nets to protect people at risk and carrying out clinical case management, surveillance and social mobilization activities aimed at reducing animal-to-human transmission through animal husbandry and slaughter practices.
The Rome-based CMC is coordinating this effort as part of its mandate to deal with transboundary animal disease.
“When first set up, we found ourselves faced with the potentially global threat to animals and humans posed by highly pathogenic avian influenza,” said CMC Manager Karin Schwabenbauer.
“The outbreak of Rift Valley fever is just another example that requires a quick and coordinated answer. I am glad that CMC was able to assist the team in the region in setting up the appropriate activities from the beginning of the outbreak," Ms Schwabenbauer also said.
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