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Back To Vidyya Yellow Fever Spreads To Sierre Leone

WHO Continues To Fight Lassa Fever

The World Health Organization said Tuesday officials in Sierra Leone have been put on alert to prevent a yellow fever epidemic in neighboring Liberia spreading across the border.

Four people had died and at least 79 suspected cases of yellow fever had been detected in Liberia as of last week. A 4-year-old child was thought to have arrived from Sierra Leone with the disease, but died before that could be confirmed, WHO said.

Health officials in the border area have been alerted and WHO has sent 30,000 doses of yellow fever vaccine to Sierra Leone, it added.

"The risk of further transmission is high," the U.N. health agency said in a statement. "The area is notoriously insecure and hard to access due to rebel activity, and there is much movement of displaced and vulnerable people across the border."

Yellow fever is a viral disease transmitted through mosquito bites. About 15 percent of those infected become seriously ill, and half of those die. There is no cure, but vaccinations are effective for at least 10 years.

Also Tuesday, WHO said a Lassa fever isolation unit is being set up in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, with cases this year running at an unusually high level.

Lassa fever cases usually peak with the harvest in March, which allows rats to flourish, WHO said. But this year they have not fallen, and the country's only treatment center for the disease--in the eastern city of Kenema --is handling more than 50 patients per month.

The reason for the increase is unclear, WHO said. The decision to set up a center in Freetown was prompted by a death there last week.

Lassa fever is spread by infected rats but infected humans can also pass it on, usually via bodily fluids. It is fatal in 25 percent of cases and survivors can suffer permanent deafness. There is no vaccine for the disease.

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