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Yellow Fever Outbreak in Senegal Alarms WHO - 2002-10-22

A yellow fever outbreak in Senegal has raised concerns among officials at the World Health Organization. WHO fears the disease will spread if the government has to stop a mass vaccination campaign for lack of funds. The organization says three people have died among 32 cases of yellow fever.

All the yellow fever cases in Senegal have been reported in and around the city of Touba which is northeast of the capital, Dakar.

WHO spokesman Ian Simpson said urban yellow fever is particularly dangerous. "The reason why it is dangerous in an urban setting is because if you have a population of these particular mosquitoes and you have people living closely together and you have yellow fever. Mosquitoes have plenty of people to bite and pick up the infection when they have someone to bite and then they will pass it on. And that is why it spreads quickly. It is just that concentration of people and mosquitoes and disease all in the same place is very bad news for yellow fever," he said.

Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of the Aedes Aegyptai mosquito. People who are struck with the disease turn yellow and run a high fever.

Mr. Simpson said good treatment is available. But many of those who do not receive treatment quickly will die. "It does not kill by any means all of the people who it infects, but it does kill people and it is a pretty nasty fever. We are simply trying to keep the numbers down because if it is killing 10 percent of the people who are affected, then you just have to do the math to see that if it infects a few hundred people, you will get large numbers of people dying. And that is clearly what we are trying to avoid," he said.

The World Health Organization first learned about the outbreak of yellow fever in Senegal toward the end of September. WHO Spokesman Simpson says the best way to prevent the epidemic from spreading is to vaccinate every person in the affected region.

The Senegalese government began a mass vaccination campaign in the affected area on October 1. But Mr. Simpson said the government is running low on vaccines and needs nearly $1 million to buy enough vaccine to immunize hundreds of thousands of people who are at risk.