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Abidjan: Possible Yellow Fever Epidemic - 2001-09-12

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is in urgent need of three million doses of vaccine to prevent what it calls a catastrophic outbreak of yellow fever in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast.

The World Health Organization says rapid action is essential to prevent this worrying outbreak of yellow fever from becoming a humanitarian disaster.

WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl, says the disease could spread like wildfire if it is not quickly contained. He says Abidjan has a population of 3.5 million. Only about 40 percent of the population has been vaccinated against yellow fever. "That means that there are probably still 2.1 million people at risk of contracting yellow fever," he says. "Of 2.1 million, if the normal ... infection rate witnessed in previous outbreaks of yellow fever is attained of 30 percent, that means there could be 700,000 people with yellow fever, the potential of contracting virulent yellow fever of up to 100,000 active cases, the likes of which we have not seen in ages."

Urban Yellow Fever is spread by a mosquito that lives in or very close to peoples' homes. WHO says it is very rare disease, but when it occurs, it can spread extremely rapidly among a dense urban population, potentially causing many thousands of deaths.

Yellow fever is difficult to recognize in its early stages. It can easily be confused with malaria, typhoid or other causes of fever. Mr. Hartl says so far four deaths have been officially reported. "The last official figures we have are from the beginning of last week. We have not been able to get newer figures," he says. "We are still very much at the beginning of the outbreak. We can nip this in the bud before it happens. This still is an outbreak waiting to happen. It has not actually happened. We really need the cooperation of donors to get this outbreak stopped before it actually starts. "

The World Health Organization says plans for a mass immunization campaign in Abidjan will not be able to go ahead until it receives three million doses of vaccine. The agency is urgently locating stocks of yellow fever vaccine that can be moved quickly to Ivory Coast. But, Mr. Hartl says none of this will happen until donors come up with the $3 million needed to purchase the Yellow Fever vaccine.