In addition to the Zika virus, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning the government about the resurrection of yellow fever. The recent outbreak in Angola has severely depleted the vaccine stockpile for the disease, and cases are spreading globally.
Since January, nearly 200 people have died out of 1200 people infected. The first part of the virus is headaches, feeling achy and feverish. What kills patients is a second toxic phase, in which they become jaundiced due to liver failure. Eventually, this phase leads to bleeding from the eyes and other orifices, then multi-organ shutdown.
Head of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, says that the outbreak will not be limited to Africa. NPR reports:
“The bottom line is that this is another example of an emerging infection that poses a threat that may not be limited to Africa,” says Frieden. “I’m worried that yellow fever could spread widely in Angola, and then spill over to the Democratic Republic of Congo, potentially Nigeria and other very populous areas in Africa.”
That opens the risk of spread to Asian countries like China — a lot of Chinese people go back and forth to Africa for work. In fact there’ve already been some cases of yellow fever imported to China during this Angola outbreak. And if the disease does indeed spill over, says Frieden, that’s a serious situation. Because right now the world does not have enough yellow fever vaccine to handle a big outbreak.
“Vaccine is key to stopping yellow fever,” he says. “That’s how we generally stop them, by vaccinating, particularly around cases, so that the transmission can be reduced.”
The market for yellow fever has been small until now, and officials have already used up their emergency stash to vaccinate over 5 million people in Angola. They’re now using doses that were set aside as part of regular childhood vaccination.
Only four companies in the world produce the vaccine, because the market before now has been small, and usually serving poorer countries in Africa and Latin America. Frieden says that the outbreak has come at a terrible time, with so many people from the CDC assigned to working on the Zika virus. He stresses that the only way to fight outbreaks of this nature is to dedicate more money to disease control in developing nations. We’re all much closer to each other than we realize.