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
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
"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
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
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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