The worst outbreak in 30 years of yellow fever has hit the African country of Angola. Health care providers are attempting to head off the spread of this mosquito borne disease with a vaccination programme. They have vaccinated millions of Angolans but have many more to go and are rapidly depleting the stocks of vaccine.
Prevention is the key to calming the latest epidemic. There is no cure once the virus takes hold of a person. Most people have flu like symptoms but about 15% go on to experience the severe form of the disease. Of those so stricken, half will die. As the disease progresses, it becomes a haemorrhagic fever and people bleed out.
The flare up of the disease started in Luanda in mid-February and quickly escalated to 1600 confirmed cases. Two hundred twenty-five have died.
Now the disease is moving into the DR Congo. There are a reported 21 fatalities to date with 151 confirmed cases. Some of those cases have been traced to the outbreak in Angola. The countries share a border.
Currently, yellow fever is endemic in 44 countries. Africa and Latin America are the most strongly hit. WHO estimates that 60 000 people die from the disease each year.
Those people who are planning travel to areas affected by this haemorrhagic disease are strongly urged to obtain a vaccination against the virus.
Yellow fever is only one of a large number of haemorrhagic fevers that are largely confined to tropical areas. Mosquitoes are one of the insects that spread the viruses, but other biting insects are known to spread these diseases as well. More than 100 diseases are spread by arthropods. While most of these diseases are believed to have originated in tropical areas, they don’t always stay there. A combination of warming climate and quick travel can spread blood infections to new areas.
An example of a recent introduction to N. America is the West Nile Virus. About 15 years ago a few cases were detected on the eastern US. Both people and horses were infected. Some infections spread by mosquito bites were mild but others led to complications and deaths. The disease now is established in most of the continent.
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