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Press Release 99/08 JOINT FAO/WHO


Rome/Alexandria (Egypt)/ Harare (Zimbabwe), 5 March 1999.- The risk of infection with the Rift Valley fever virus, for both humans and animals, has been reduced to minimal or negligible proportions in the countries of the Horn of Africa, after an epidemic lasting from October 1997 to March 1998 in Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, a joint statement by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

The four countries are now in a better than normal situation with regard to Rift Valley fever and other diseases transmitted through insects to humans and animals, including malaria in humans; a remarkable improvement due to both favorable climatic conditions and immunity developed by a large proportion of livestock infected with the disease in 1997-1998, the joint WHO/FAO statement underlined.

"Remote sensing satellite data of climatic conditions fully support ground observations that conditions in the Horn of Africa countries are highly unfavorable for multiplication of mosquito vectors of the Rift Valley fever virus. Therefore, the risk of a Rift Valley fever epidemic occurring soon is virtually nil," the two UN agencies said.

"Climatic conditions in the four countries since mid-1998 returned to normal or below normal rainfall amounts and crop growing conditions. Flooding which would allow multiplication of mosquitoes has not occurred. Thus the risk of humans or livestock being infected with Rift Valley fever has returned to historically extremely low levels."

Regarding the export of livestock by the countries of the Horn of Africa the joint WHO/FAO statement said "the present extremely low risk of Rift Valley fever infection in livestock is comparable to the risk in former years that permitted the safe export of livestock."

"The chance of exported livestock being infected with Rift Valley fever virus and transmitting the disease to humans is at or below the historically extremely low levels that allowed safe export of livestock in the past," the joint statement emphasized.

"The risk may actually be lower than in past years", not only because the above mentioned climatic factors are highly unfavorable for mosquito multiplication (therefore virus transmission is negligible), but also because "a large proportion of the livestock are immune after being infected in 1997-1998 and there is no risk of such livestock transmitting the disease to humans or other animals," the two UN agencies underlined.

WHO recommended special precautions against mosquito bites in humans working or travelling in Rift Valley fever infected areas starting in late 1997. "These special precautions can now be relaxed to normal malaria-specific precautionary levels in view of the very much diminished risk of Rift Valley fever," the joint WHO/FAO statement said.

Finally, WHO and FAO underlined that although there have been no reports of Rift Valley fever for over a year from the epidemic areas in Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, both organizations will continue to monitor climatic conditions and animal and human health with a focus on Rift Valley fever. "Subsequent reports by the two organizations will be issued as and when conditions change," the joint statement indicated.


- For further information, please contact in Rome FAO media officer Mr. Pierre Antonios (tel.: 39.06.57053473) or FAO expert Dr. David Ward (tel.: 39.06.57056464) and in Alexandria (Egypt) Dr. Bijan Sadrizadeh (tel.: 203.48300090).

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