Worst Yellow Fever outbreak in 30 years puts Southern Africa on alert - WHO

2016-04-04 18:00 - Louzel Lombard
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Cape Town -  The worst yellow fever outbreak in 30 years has caused Namibia and Zambia to be put on a high alert watch list as Rwandan authorities implement yellow fever vaccinations on arrival for those without the required certificate.

Angola has been grappling with the outbreak since December 2015, with the first reported case in the capital city Luanda. The epidemic has since spread to 6 of the country’s 18 provinces, affecting 450 people and killing 178, according to the World Health Organization.

Angola is one of 34 countries in Africa where yellow fever occurs, and without specific treatment for the virus the single most important measure for preventing yellow fever is the vaccination - said to be effective for 10 years.

As of March 28 all travellers arriving at Rwanda's Kigali International Airport without a valid yellow fever certificate now have to pay US$40 (about R586 at R14.67/$) for a vaccination on arrival.

The Yellow fever virus is transmitted by infected mosquitoes, the most common species being Aedes aegypti – the same mosquito that spreads the Zika virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. At least half of severely affected patients who don’t receive treatment die within 10 to 14 days.

Last year, in February 2015, the South African Department of Health scrapped yellow fever vaccinations for travel between Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa.

The decision was made at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in 2015 after the World Health Organisation confirmed that Zambia had low yellow fever potential exposure status, which meant that travellers were not required to carry a yellow fever vaccination certificate anymore. 

“Such outbreaks usually occur in tropical rain forests,” explains Dr Sergio Yactayo, expert on epidemic diseases at WHO. "But with the majority of cases reported in the capital city Luanda, the situation is more dangerous and difficult to contain because the disease can spread easily from one person to another.

"We are already seeing cases spread to a number of provinces outside Luanda,” Yactayo says.

Cases of yellow fever have also been reported in other countries including China, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Kenya. Namibia and Zambia remain on high alert for imported cases.

Travellers, particularly those arriving to Asia from Africa or Latin America must have a certificate of yellow fever vaccination. If there are medical grounds for not getting vaccinated, International Health Regulations state that this must be certified by the appropriate authorities.

You can check all Yellow Fever facts and symptoms on the World Health Organization fact sheet here.

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