Africa’s Yellow Fever Outbreaks Can Be Reduced with Vaccines

WHO Long Life for All theme highlights yellow fever vaccination need
africa map of yellow fever
Africa (Vax Before Travel)

Every year the World Health Organization (WHO) marks African Vaccination Week in the last week of April. The week provides the opportunity to showcase how innovative vaccines protect us, young and old, against more than twenty-five vaccine-preventable diseases.

This year’s theme, “Long Life for All,” highlights the life-saving potential of vaccines such as for yellow fever.

Yellow fever is an epidemic-prone mosquito-borne vaccine-preventable disease caused by an arbovirus transmitted to humans by the bites of infected Aedes and Haemagogus mosquitoes.

On April 28, 2022, the WHO confirmed that about forty countries, 27 in Africa and 13 in Central and South America, are classified as high-risk for yellow fever. 

And yellow fever can be prevented by safe and effective vaccines such as YF-Vax and Stamaril.

Recently the WHO Africa Region reported new yellow fever outbreaks in Uganda and Kenya.

In early March 2022, the WHO received notification from the Uganda Ministry of Health (MoH) of four suspected yellow fever cases.

As of April 25, 2022, seven suspected cases tested positive for yellow fever antibodies by plaque reduction neutralization test. 

In response, the MoH declared an outbreak, and a rapid response team was deployed to the affected districts. Due to the potential of epidemic spread in Uganda and the risk of spread to neighboring countries, the WHO assessed the risk as ‘high’ at the national and regional levels.

Unfortunately, Uganda has not introduced the yellow fever vaccine into routine immunization, and the estimated overall population immunity is deficient (4.2%).

In Kenya, a total of 53 suspected yellow fever cases, including six deaths, had been reported from Isiolo county by the end of March 2022.

According to WHO-UNICEF, the overall estimated coverage through routine immunization is 7% of the target population at the national level.

As of May 1, 2022, Kenya had not conducted large-scale catch-up vaccination campaigns.

But yellow fever vaccination is now included in the national routine immunization schedule (i.e., for children at nine months) in the four counties deemed at the highest risk.

The U.S. CDC previously issued Travel Notices for Ghana and Nigeria to alert international travelers. In addition, the CDC suggests pre-visit vaccinations before visiting risk areas.

In the U.S., yellow fever vaccines are only available at certified clinics and pharmacies. 

And you should receive a yellow card called the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis to prove that you have been recently immunized.

Once contracted, the yellow fever virus incubates in the body for 3 to 6 days. In most cases, symptoms disappear after a few days, says the U.S. CDC.

However, a small proportion of patients can have more severe symptoms of high-grade fever, abdominal pain with vomiting, jaundice, and dark urine caused by acute liver and kidney failure. 

Related fatalities can occur within about half of yellow fever patients with severe symptoms.

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