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1 October News

  1. Donald Kaye, Section Editor

Health Officials Race to Prevent Congo Yellow Fever Disaster

1 July 2016 (Reuters [Tim Cocks])—It is the stuff of a disaster movie: an outbreak of yellow fever in Congo's capital city, full of unvaccinated people mostly huddled together in slums with too few drains and the kind of sticky, fetid climate that mosquitoes love.

Kinshasa's 12 million people—twice as many as there are doses of yellow fever vaccine anywhere in the world—are largely unprotected against this easily preventable illness, which has killed at least 353 in Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring Angola.

And though the mosquito-borne virus has yet to gain momentum in Africa's third largest metropolis, officials in Congo's government and the World Health Organization are racing to avoid a repeat of the kind of urban epidemics that decimated Western cities like New York and Philadelphia in centuries past.

With 3 weeks to go before they start a vaccination campaign for 11.6 million people against the hemorrhagic virus in 3 Congolese provinces, and only 1.3 million doses of the vaccine on their way to Congo, time is not on their side.

There are currently just 6 million doses of vaccine in the world, and the method of making more, using chicken eggs, takes about a year. As an emergency measure, health officials have decided to split the doses into fifths, enabling them to cover more people, although only for a year rather than a lifetime.

Yellow fever was once a big killer in the West, wiping out about a tenth of the population of New York and Philadelphia in the 18th century. Then, 80 years ago, a vaccine was created and the virus was quickly eradicated in the rich world.

In Africa it mainly persists in remote rural areas, and not …

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  1. Clin Infect Dis. 63 (7): i-ii. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciw503
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