COTE D IVOIRE: Yellow fever outbreak

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ABIDJAN, 12 October (IRIN) - Two cases of deadly and untreatable Yellow Fever have been reported in Cote d'Ivoire in the last week, and health officials fear that the outbreak could quickly spread if funds are not raised for a widespread vaccination campaign.

Yellow fever is a deadly viral disease spread by mosquitoes. Epidemics can spread to an average 20 percent of people in affected areas, 50 percent of whom may die, according to the United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO). There is no treatment for people already infected, but a simple vaccination can stop the disease in its tracks.

he early symptoms of the disease are similar to malaria, making it hard to recognise, experts say. Early symptoms are fever, muscle pain, and nausea, after which an infected patient may either recover, or relapse and experience jaundice, bleeding from the eyes, nose and mouth, kidney failure, and death.

"The most important thing is to do an investigation, and then to vaccinate all the population in the immediate zone. Then, there must be a wider vaccination of other people who may have come into contact with the infection," said Kone Souleymane, spokesperson for WHO in Abidjan.

Public health officials in Cote d'Ivoire also need to be taught how to manage the outbreak, WHO said a statement released on Wednesday warning about the outbreak.

The WHO has launched an appeal for CFA 430m (US $806,000) to buy sufficient vaccine to inoculate 650,000 people.

"If nothing is done in the next three months to stem the yellow fever epidemic, the illness could spread, taking into account the mobility of populations," said Dr. Genevieve Saki-Nekouressi, yellow fever expert at WHO. "It is necessary to put a vaccination team in place as soon as possible."

One of the cases discovered last week was recorded in a 30-year old man in Korhogo, which is in the rebel-held north of the country, 500km north of the country's main city Abidjan, WHO's statement said.

The second case is in a 16 year-old girl in Ouragahio, which is in the government-controlled central-west. Cote d'Ivoire has been split in two since a failed coup in September 2002 triggered a brief civil war.

The Pasteur Institute in Abidjan and a WHO regional laboratory in the Senegal capital, Dakar, confirmed both incidences.

WHO vaccinated 26,000 people against yellow fever in February 2006 in Bouna, in the east of the country. A vaccination campaign was also conducted in the main city, Abidjan, in 2001.

Yellow Fever is on the rise again in Africa, although an effective vaccine has been available for 60 years. The disease is now a serious public health issue, WHO says.