Press Release WHO/9
17 January 1998
RIFT VALLEY FEVER OUTBREAK WIDESPREAD IN KENYA
The outbreak of Rift Valley fever, which had previously been reported in the North-eastern Province of Kenya, appears to be present in other parts of the country, according to WHO experts now in Kenya. Moreover, the outbreak is also equally serious in neighbouring Somalia.
Approximately 300 deaths from this outbreak have been reported to the Government in Nairobi. The World Health Organization (WHO) has received estimates of an approximately equal number of deaths due to the outbreak in Somalia.
The first reports came from the North-eastern Province in December 1997. In recent days, reports of humans and animals suffering from a disease with the symptoms of Rift Valley fever (RVF) have now been reported in Kenya's North-Eastern, Eastern, Rift Valley, Central and Coast provinces. These areas include some national parks and reported cases have also come from near Nairobi and Mombassa.
"At this point, we would not recommend that travelers cancel their journeys to Kenya but they should be aware that Rift Valley fever is transmitted by mosquitoes. If they travel to areas near where outbreaks have been reported, they should take proper anti-insect measures. These include wearing long-sleeved shirts and long trousers and using mosquito repellant and bednets," said Dr David Heymann, Director of WHO's Division of Emerging and other Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Control (EMC).
A second team of WHO experts arrived in Kenya on 15 January and, in collaboration with the Kenyan Ministry of Health, has elaborated a provisional plan to combat the outbreak. Elements of the plan include case-based, clinical surveillance in hospitals throughout Kenya to detect new cases and investigate the increased spread of the disease, and a systematic sampling and testing of specimens taken from humans and animals which have contracted the disease.
WHO is participating in a coordination group which has been established among the Kenyan ministries, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations involved in fighting the outbreak. Testing capacity for Rift Valley fever in humans at the WHO Collaborating Centre, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), has been established in collaboration with the WHO Collaborating Centre at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control in Atlanta, USA.
For the moment, information on the outbreak from northeastern Kenya is still sparse and WHO and its partners will be working in coming weeks to increase surveillance of and testing for Rift Valley fever and other diseases potentially associated with this outbreak. Rift Valley fever may not be the sole cause of the outbreak, but recent evidence suggests that malaria and cholera are not playing as great a role as has been previously reported. Famine, on the other hand, has been a significant cause of death.
WHO will also be working with national and international partners to improve access to the northeast of Kenya, which has been largely cut off because of floods, and to develop a plan for control of the disease adapted to local conditions.
For further information please contact Gregory Hartl, Health Communication and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Tel. (+41 22) 791 4458. Fax (+41 22) 791 4858. Email email@example.com
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