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Emergency Yellow Fever Vaccinations Begin in Liberia

An emergency vaccination campaign is to be launched Thursday in Liberia to combat an outbreak of the Yellow Fever virus. The World Health Organization, the U.N. children's agency, and the Liberian Ministry of Health are organizing the mass immunization.

The World Health Organization in Liberia has confirmed that three people have died from the most recent outbreak of yellow fever, and two more deaths are suspected to have been caused by the virus.

Samples from 20 suspected patients had been sent for testing as of Monday, and more cases were reported Tuesday in the areas of Nimba and Bong, which border Guinea and Ivory Coast.

Yellow Fever is not always fatal. There is currently no cure for the virus, but it can be prevented through vaccination.

WHO Spokesman Luzitu Simao says the agencies involved are moving quickly, because any outbreak of Yellow Fever is always taken very seriously.

"It is an emergency campaign," he said, "because the problem is, according to WHO guidelines, one case; one confirmed case of Yellow Fever is enough to be declared an emergency situation and start the vaccination, because the transmission is from mosquito to person and from person to person. So, if we cannot act immediately, then we will face a big problem in the future. We have a situation of a large amount of people living together, and the mosquito has more possibility to bite two or three people at the same time."

Mr. Simao says the most obvious symptom of Yellow Fever is jaundice, which turns the skin color yellow and is harder to detect in black Africans.

A spokeswoman for UNICEF, Angela Kearney, says 14 years of civil strife in Liberia caused huge shifts in population, which created favorable conditions for the spread of Yellow Fever. But she says the virus can be controlled through vaccination, and that is particularly important in preventing its spread to neighboring countries.

"It is an emergency, but it has effects way beyond Liberia. Liberia shares borders with so many other countries. So we need to contain it very quickly now, and stop the deaths that are occurring," she said.

Liberia has fewer than 80,000 doses of the Yellow Fever vaccine, but it is expecting a shipment from Geneva of 500,000 doses, to immunize everyone over the age of six months in the infected region. The vaccination campaign is expected to last one week.