Rift Valley Fever

Rift Valley Fever (RVF) is an acute viral disease. It mainly affects animals (cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats and camels). However, people can be affected as well. An outbreak of the disease is more likely after heavy rains.


Where is the disease found?

The virus occurs mainly in eastern but also in southern Africa, especially in cattle and sheep breeding areas. It is also found in tropical parts of Africa and Madagascar, i.e. not only within the Rift Valley.


What are the symptoms of the disease?

The symptoms vary greatly. The disease can occur with no symptoms at all or mild symptoms similar to those of flu - fever, muscle pain and headache. Some patients experience a stiff neck, loss of appetite, vomiting and light sensitivity. However, Rift Valley Fever can also cause haemorrhagic fever and severe brain infection. Retinal inflammation is the most common complication, which can lead to blindness in a small number of patients. The symptoms usually last for 2 to 7 days. Rift Valley Fever proves fatal for approximately 1% of those infected.


How is this disease contracted?

Rift Valley Fever is transmitted by mosquito bites and probably also by other insect bites. Humans can also be infected by direct or indirect contact with the blood or organs of infected animals, e.g. veterinarians or butchers. People can also be infected as a result of drinking unpasteurised or infected milk which has not been boiled. In exceptional cases the infection can be transmitted through the air. People camping in the above areas are at higher risk of infection. Others who face a significant risk include persons who are in contact with animals, such as shepherds, farmers, veterinarians, butchers and slaughterhouse staff members.


What action should you take?

There are no treatments for the Rift Valley Fever virus at the moment. Scientists are still searching for an antiviral drug. Prevention is therefore essential. You should certainly avoid contact with animals during a Rift Valley Fever outbreak. You can also take some personal protective measures such as wearing long sleeves and trousers, using an insect repellant containing DEET and sleeping under impregnated mosquito nets. You should avoid eating uncooked food and drinking unpasteurised milk. Animal products in particular should be thoroughly cooked before eating.



CDC, January, 2007



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