Zika Spreads in the Americas, But Don’t Forget Yellow Fever

While most of the world has been focused on the Zika virus in the Americas, Yellow Fever, another mosquito borne disease has been plaguing Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As of last week, 400 people have died with thousands more sick.

The current outbreak is believed to have started in December of 2015 in Luanda, Angola. Since then, the World Health Organization (who), and respective national governments and public health groups have faced difficulties in slowing the spread of the disease. Yellow Fever is a hemorrhagic disease that causes fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. While there is no cure for the disease, there is a vaccine. Approximately 15 percent of those who become infected with Yellow Fever advance to a more severe form of the disease. 

One hindrance in combating the outbreak is procuring the Yellow Fever vaccine. With only four companies producing the vaccine, it takes approximately eight months to complete a batch. As of last month, the WHO announced that it was eight million doses short. 

“This outbreak response has been complex and challenging,” Tarik Jasarevic of the WHO, told CBS News. “For the first time, WHO and other partners are dealing with an outbreak of yellow fever in a dense, urban setting. The changing global situation in the past 20 years, including the rapid rise of urbanization, increased mobility between large cities in Africa, and new environmental and climatic factors mean an increased risk of mosquito-borne diseases spreading internationally.”

Poor or slow responses by the WHO and governments have worsened the already delicate situation. The Associated Press recently reported the misplacement of a million doses of the vaccine in Angola along with faulty supplies such as refrigerators and syringes. 

The charity, Save The Children warns that this is the largest Yellow Fever epidemic in decades and that it could soon spread to Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The WHO has not declared  the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). 

As a last ditch effort to reduce the spread of the disease in Africa, health organizations operating in Angola and the DRC have launched an emergency vaccine program. In an attempt to vaccinate over 14 million people in Angola and the DRC before the start of the rainy season next month, the WHO and Save The Children, along with other partner organizations, will be administering one-fifth of the standard dose. While the standard dose provides lifetime immunity from Yellow Fever, the fractionalized dose provides immunity for at least twelve months. 

“This outbreak is manageable if we can protect enough people with the vaccine,” Jasarevic said. “The aim is to prevent a PHEIC with a strong response.”

 

 

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