Yellow Fever Spreading in Angola

Worst yellow fever outbreak in many years now occurring in Angola, Georgetown University report found.

Although Zika virus has been in the news lately, there’s also a related virus causing problems in Africa.

A recent report from the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University notes that yellow fever is spreading rapidly in Luanda, Angola.

The authors of the report stated that the risk of vaccine supply shortages could increase the risk of yellow fever epidemics in Africa, Asia or the Americas.

Part of their concern stems from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s plan to vaccinate nearly two million people in Kinshasa and Kongo Central. The combination of that mass vaccination plus vaccinations in Angola could exhaust the world’s supply of yellow fever vaccine.

Co-author Daniel R. Lucey, MD, MPH, is an adjunct professor of microbiology and immunology at Georgetown University Medical Center. Co-author Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, is a Georgetown University professor and the Faculty Director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

A yellow fever epidemic was reported to the world Health Organization (WHO) in January 2016 by officials from Angola. As of April 25, 2016, Angola reported 2,023 suspected cases and 258 deaths from yellow fever. Countries such as China, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya have reported cases resulting from people infected with yellow fever who have traveled from Angola.

Yellow fever is a virus similar to the Zika virus and dengue and West Nile fevers. The term yellow fever comes from liver involvement, which causes people’s skin to turn yellow, or jaundice. The virus cycles from human to human and from monkey to human and is transmitted by the Aedes and Hemogogus mosquitoes.

Millions of individuals in Africa, Asia and Latin America are at risk. Yellow fever causes about 30,000 deaths per year in Africa.

The disease causes fever, headaches, muscle pains, back pain, nausea and sometimes vomiting. In many people symptoms resolve within a week, but for about one in seven, the disease progresses to a second stage.

In the second stage, high fever, bleeding, kidney damage and jaundice occur. Nearly half of individuals who develop the second stage of the disease die.

There is no specific treatment or antiviral medication, although a yellow fever vaccine is available.

Drs. Lucey and Gostin urged WHO to convene an emergency committee to mobilize funds, coordinate an international response and push for increase vaccine production. Being proactive, they noted, could help head off more serious epidemics.

The report was published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Neither author reported a conflict of interest.

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