June 5, 2016
Yellow Fever Threat To Global Population
The Aedes aegypti mosquito thrives in tropical climates and can carry the Zika virus, yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya.
Urgent action is needed to combat a yellow fever epidemic in Africa amid signs it is turning into a global health emergency and a severe shortage of the vaccine, academics have warned.
With nearly a billion people at risk from the deadly disease in Africa and Latin America and the danger of an outbreak in Asia, immunologist Professor Daniel Lucey and Lawrence Gostin, a professor in global health law, called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare an emergency saying delays over Ebola had "cost lives".
And they also said that because of the surge in new infectious diseases in recent years – thought to be driven in part by climate change – the world should now set up a permanent committee to decide how to respond as new threats emerge.
Angola is in the grip of its worst yellow fever epidemic since 1986 with more than 250 deaths, and the disease is spreading rapidly – Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all reported cases.
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In an article called A Yellow Fever Epidemic: A New Global Health Emergency? in the journal JAMA, the academics, of Georgetown University in Washington DC, warned: “The looming threat of a severe yellow fever vaccine shortage exists amid epidemics in Africa and potentially in Latin America and Asia.”
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Since the 17th century there have been sporadic outbreaks of the disease outside its normal range in southern Africa and South America, usually in sea ports.
This happened in Europe in 1730 and 1821, when the UK was affected, and there have also been outbreaks in the US, such as in New Orleans in 1905, Memphis, Tennessee, in 1878 and Philadelphia in 1793.
Yellow fever kills people in a particularly nasty way. It initially causes symptoms such as fever, a significant backache, shivering and vomiting for about three or four days.
But shortly after they seem to recover about 15 per cent of patients are hit by a much worse fever that gives them the jaundice from which the disease gets its name.
They can then start bleeding from the eyes, nose and stomach, with further vomiting and cramps. About half of those who get this more severe strain will die as a result. There is no treatment.
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Since the 1980s, the medical community has reported a range of new disease threats, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), West Nile virus, bird flu and swine flu.
There are thought to be a number of reasons for this, including the growth of the human population coupled with the ease of international travel; the global trade in animals and plants; the loss of natural habitats which has forced animals to look for new places to find food; and climate change, which has enabled animals to move to different places.
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The WHO, which said last month that yellow fever was a threat to the entire world, said that holding an emergency committee meeting on yellow fever was "under discussion".
"The Angola outbreak is of particular concern because of its urban nature and the possibility of international spread,"
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On its website, WHO warns: "The risk of international spread is greater than before. In the past devastating outbreaks occurred mainly in sea ports. Today, most cities are connected to most of the world by more rapid means of transport, train or plane.
“So far, the virus circulation has remained within the borders of historically endemic countries, but the virus could spread quickly and cause epidemics in areas with a high density of vectors and a non-immune population.”
Yellow fever: World on brink of global emergency over deadly outbreak, academics warn
Nearly a billion people in Africa and Latin America are at risk, Asia could be next and even Europe and the US have had outbreaks of the deadly disease in the past
Ian Johnston, Science Correspondent
Monday 9 May 2016