An outbreak of Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in Mauritania has now infected 34 humans and caused 17 deaths in the region, according to an update from the WHO. Although cases began appearing in mid-September, officials declared an official outbreak on Oct. 4.
RVF is an insect-borne and zoonotic virus that primarily infects animals, but can also infect humans. It was named for the place it was first identified in 1931, Kenya’s Rift Valley.
While non-human animals are typically infected through Aedes mosquitoes, humans are more often infected through contact with contaminated animal blood or organs, which may occur during animal births, slaughter, or the practice of veterinary medicine.
All the patients in Mauritania’s outbreak have reported some contact with animals. No cases of person-to-person transmission have ever been reported.
The Mauritanian Ministry of Health is collaborating with the Ministry of Rural Development to improve disease surveillance and slaughterhouse health inspections and to promote awareness of the disease.
Most cases of RVF are mild with flu-like symptoms. However, about one percent of infected patients die from the disease, usually from severe hemorrhagic complications. Other complications include loss of vision and brain damage.
Animals that have been infected in the past include sheep, goats, cattle, and camels. The mortality rate for animals with RVF is higher than in humans, especially among young animals.
To prevent RVF, experts recommend avoiding contact with animals during an outbreak and using protective gear if contact is necessary. People can prevent mosquito bites by making use of bed nets, repellent, and protective, light-colored clothing.
There are currently no trade or travel restrictions on Mauritania due to RVF.