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Rift Valley Fever Kills Nearly 70 in Northeastern Kenya

Health officials say nearly 70 people have died from an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in northeastern Kenya. And they fear the outbreak could become much worse.

James Lorenz is a spokesperson for the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders. From Nairobi, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the disease.

“In terms of Rift Valley fever, it’s relatively serious. The last one (outbreak) happened in 1997. And this time there have been upwards of 160 cases and around 67 deaths up until about 5th of January. It’s an extremely serious disease of the hemorrhagic fever origin, which basically means people, when they actually catch it, are likely to bleed to death,” he says.

Rift Valley Fever, however, is primarily an animal disease. Lorenz says, “Most of the time mosquitoes lay dormant for a number of years along river valleys in this part of Kenya. And when there have been floods, which has happened recently…the floodwaters have reactivated the mosquito eggs.”

The newborn mosquitoes are already infected with Rift Valley Fever. “Primarily, they’ve attacked the animals, the goats and the sheep, but also the people, mainly the herders actually sleeping in proximity to the animals. So, a lot of people have been attacked by these mosquitoes, as well. And because of this there have been a relatively high number of deaths,” he says.

Lorenz says it is an extremely difficult disease to treat. In addition, he says there’s little infrastructure in the remote area, which is difficult to access. He says that one of the best ways to stem the spread of the disease is through education, but the people in the area are nomads. He says that the herders need to know that they can catch the disease while being close to animals, and by drinking animals’ blood, which is common.