Uganda plans vaccination push to stop yellow fever

Dec 29, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – Uganda is planning to vaccinate about 2.5 million people in its northern regions against yellow fever, following the recent confirmation that the disease is the cause of a 2-month-old outbreak that has killed more than 40 people, according to press reports.

Uganda's health minister, Dr. Nathan Kenya-Mugisha, said this is the first documented yellow fever outbreak in the country since 1972, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) story today. He said Uganda's defenses against the disease had "relaxed" since then.

The Daily Monitor, a Ugandan newspaper, said today that the mosquito-borne virus has killed 48 people in northern Uganda and another 187 are hospitalized. The AFP story put the total number of confirmed cases at 187.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the disease is yellow fever, the US embassy in Kampala said in a statement yesterday. Previous reports had suggested that the disease, which causes headache, fever, and vomiting of blood, was dysentery, Ebola fever, or, most recently, pneumonic plague.

Kenya-Mugisha announced the plan to vaccinate 2.5 million people in the northern districts, according to a CNN report yesterday.

Because of the outbreak, the US embassy warned Americans not to travel to northern Uganda unless they have been vaccinated against yellow fever within the past 10 years. The vaccine takes about 10 days to take full effect.

The embassy statement said nearly all of the severe yellow fever cases have occurred in three districts: Abim, Agago, and Kitgum. The Daily Monitor mentioned six other affected districts.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 200,000 people contract yellow fever each year and 30,000 die. Cases have increased over the past 20 years for reasons such as deforestation, urbanization, and climate change, according to a WHO fact sheet. The disease is endemic in 32 African countries and 13 countries in Latin America.

While the vaccine is 95% effective, there is no specific treatment for the illness, according to the WHO. Most people struck by yellow fever recover after 3 to 4 days, but after a brief respite, about 15% suffer a second and more severe stage of disease, the WHO reports. About half of those people die within 10 to 15 days, while the rest recover.

See also:

Dec 28 US embassy warden message confirming yellow fever in Uganda

Dec 29 AFP story

Dec 29 Daily Monitor report

Dec 28 CNN report

WHO fact sheet on yellow fever

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