An epidemic of yellow fever is causing havoc in Angola. It has infected around 500 people and killed 198. There is no specific treatment for the disease. Prevention by mass vaccination is the best method to prevent mortality and morbidity. The vaccine gives almost life long immunity. It is cheap too , but there is a huge shortage of it. It seems another 1.5 million doses are required in Angola alone. There is also a fear that the disease may spread to other areas including populous regions in Asia where the vector, Aedes aegypti are abundant. Such a spread can be lethal as there will not be enough vaccines.
WHO Director General Dr Margaret Chan is visiting Angola this week. WHO working with the Angolan Ministry of Health and partners had vaccinated 5.7 million people in Luanda against yellow fever using vaccines from the International Coordination Group emergency stockpile.
Sciencemag in an article on this issue of vaccine shortage and threat to Asia had this to say:
“I think all the specialists in my field agree that there is a real and present danger of having a major outbreak of yellow fever that is uncontrollable,” adds medical entomologist Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. “It’s a ticking time bomb.” One stopgap measure might be to lower the vaccine dose, Monath says; some studies have shown that just one-fifth or one-tenth of the current dose could protect people.
Spread to Asia is the nightmare scenario for yellow fever experts. Angola is home to many Chinese workers, and in at least six cases they have already brought the virus to China. Five of these cases occurred in Beijing, where Aedes aegypti does not occur, so the disease could not spread. But the mosquito is abundant in southern China and elsewhere in Asia—and so are vulnerable people. Oddly, however, yellow fever has never taken off on that continent.
Perhaps Asia has just been unbelievably lucky. “It didn’t happen before, but does that mean it is not going to happen now?” Perea asks. “Nobody knows.”
China has large business interests in Angola. With many people regularly travelling back and forth, the disease could easily be transmitted abroad. All it takes is one.