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Press Release 98/03


Rome, January 15 -- A serious outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in parts of northeastern Kenya and adjacent areas of Somalia constitutes an international emergency, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

The mosquito-borne disease is reported to have already claimed nearly 400 human victims and thousands of animals have also died. The outbreak follows heavy rain and flooding in the affected area which is hampering efforts to establish the full extent of the outbreak.

Through its Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES) programme, this week FAO is sending a leading animal health expert to Kenya to study the situation and establish whether other diseases besides Rift Valley Fever are involved in the current crisis. The results of this mission will help countries in the region to protect their herds, and could also form the basis for assistance by the international community.

FAO said there was a high risk that the disease could spread from the present affected area and it has issued a warning to all countries in the region of the need for the highest vigilance in disease surveillance. As well as new areas of Kenya and Somalia the countries most at risk are Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. Because mosquitoes can be transported long distances on the wind, there was even a possibility of the disease crossing the Red Sea to the Arabian peninsular, FAO said.

Epidemics of Rift Valley Fever typically occur in five to 20-year cycles following particularly heavy, prolonged and often unseasonal rainfall which favours the breeding of the mosquitoes which spread the disease. The only effective means of protecting livestock is through prophylactic immunisation, but vaccination once an epidemic has become established comes generally too late to avoid substantial losses from occurring.


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