For some time, Vidyya had been following reports of Rift Valley Fever in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. According to WHO, there have been at least 291 cases and 64 deaths from the disease confirmed in the vicinity of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. We first reported on the epidemic in Vidyya Issue 161 and in issue 167. Since those reports, the World Health Organization (WHO) has appealed for $975,000 from the US to
support international efforts to control and prevent Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in Yemen.
In today's newspapers, there are reports that the UN health agency fears that Rift Valley Fever may continue spreading into Asia and eventually reach Europe.
According to the Associated Press, but not confirmed by WHO, as many as 182 people already have died in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, although a precise total is difficult to determine.
The fever has crossed the Red Sea, and there is the danger, not in
the next few weeks or the next few months, but in the long run the
danger of the extension of this disease into other countries in the
Arabian peninsula and then on farther north into Asia and possibly
The Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main carrier of the disease, is
present well beyond Africa and the Middle East. International health experts are still trying to determine how the disease crossed the Red Sea, but speculate that it was transmitted after a large epidemic that hit Kenya and Somalia in December 1997. It is possible that infected livestock were taken across and even conceivable that mosquitos carrying the disease flew over.
In Yemen the disease has largely tended to affect herders and their
families because the animals are brought into the family compounds
The disease is usually transmitted from animals to humans by
mosquitos, but other biting insects can convey it and it is easy for people who care for sheep and other animals to contract the disease through direct contact.
Updated figures for Saudi Arabia and Yemen are expected later this week. The Yemen death toll may be higher than in Saudi Arabia
because the affected Yemeni population already has been weakened by
widespread cases of hepatitis, malaria and other diseases endemic
to the area.
Health experts in the area are trying to determine whether the
disease has spread to other areas and are braced for the death toll
to go higher.
They are considering vaccinating uninfected animals, and are
encouraging herders to avoid slaughtering animals that appear sick
and to avoid contact with the animals' blood.
Rift Valley fever was first identified in Kenya's Rift Valley in
1930. Aedes aegypti mosquitos can transmit the virus to their eggs,
which can remain dormant for several years of drought and then pass
the disease on to humans or animals after the eggs come in contact
with moisture and hatch.
The virus causes diarrhea, nausea and internal bleeding that can
result in death.