The Food and Agriculture Organization has cautioned that an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in Sudan could spread rapidly in coming weeks due to the widespread movement of livestock in preparation for the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Idha. Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.
An outbreak of Rift Valley Fever that emerged in Sudan in late October has continued to spread in recent weeks. On Thursday, the World Health Organization announced that at least 451 people have now been infected by the disease in Sudan, and 164 have died.
Humans most commonly contract the disease by coming into contact with contaminated animal blood, often through slaughtering livestock or veterinary operations including animal births. The disease can also be transmitted through mosquito bites, though this is more common for transmission between animals.
While a human vaccine has been developed, it has not been approved for public use.
The Sudanese government has established a task force to respond to the outbreak, with support from the World Health Organization. In a statement on Thursday, the WHO called for increased public awareness efforts by local media, and community and religious leaders, to warn of the risks of coming into contact with contaminated animals and to provide advice on safe methods of handling livestock.
The director of medical services for Kenya's Ministry of Health, Dr. James Nyikal, tells VOA that a public awareness campaign was central in Kenya's containment of an outbreak earlier this year.
"The main strategy was one, to vaccinate around the epicenter, so you create a zone that is disease free, and the other one was public information on action that people need to take so that they do not get affected and this included avoiding meats and meat products and handling of meats and milk, and we had a massive public health education," he said.
Outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever have been reported periodically in East Africa. Outbreaks were reported earlier this year in Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia.
The outbreak in Sudan has been concentrated in the states of White Nile, Sennar and Gazeera. The FAO is concerned that with the approach of the Eid al-Adha holiday on December 20, during which Muslims often sacrifice an animal, the increased movement of livestock could spread the disease.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have banned imports of livestock from Sudan, according to the FAO. And authorities in Ethiopia, which borders Sennar state, have announced that they have taken measures to prevent the disease spreading across the border.