Rift Valley Fever Outbreak in South Africa: An Unwelcome Visitor to the World Cup?2 min read
Last month, the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever (RVF), a viral illness that generally produces relatively mild symptoms of fever, headache, and muscle pains but on rare occasions can lead to internal bleeding, inflammation of the brain and eyes, and even death. This news raises some eyebrows, coming on the eve of South Africa’s final preparations for a tidal wave of soccer enthusiasts for the FIFA World Cup, scheduled for a month-long run in numerous urban venues throughout South Africa beginning June 11th. RVF is transmitted
to humans primarily by contact with
the blood of infected animals, especially cattle, sheep, donkeys and goats. Because mosquitoes are the primary means of transmission, RVF outbreaks usually occur during heavy, prolonged rains. Fortunately, June and July are among the driest months in South Africa, and most RVF cases in this recent outbreak have been confined to rural areas. South African health officials are quick to point out that victims to date have been in close proximity to domestic animals, and that mosquito-to-human transmission has not been documented so far. In addition, the cooler winter weather is expected to encourage heavier clothing and reduce mosquito bites. What’s the worst case? Kenya and Somalia experienced outbreaks in the summer of 2007, with dozens of reported deaths. The worst outbreak on record was in Egypt (1977-78) when millions were infected and thousands died. Fortunately, the vast majority of those who contract the illness recover within 2-7 days. Less than 2% of cases progress to hemorrhagic fever which carries a 50% mortality rate. Despite this grim history, the threat of RVF should not deter anyone from traveling to South Africa next month for the World Cup. However, if a sojourn into rural areas of South Africa is on your itinerary, take precautions such as avoiding livestock and using insect repellent, protective clothing and mosquito netting. Soccer fans need to rein in their passions long enough to focus on avoiding a rendezvous with the RVF virus, which is also in attendance.