WHO advises precautions in South Africa virus outbreak

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The World Health Organisation on Wednesday advised travellers to South Africa to take precautions against insect bites and contact with raw meat, after an outbreak of Rift Valley fever killed 18 people.

"WHO advises no international travel restriction to or from South Africa." the agency said in a statement posted on its website.

"However, WHO recommends that visitors to South Africa, especially those intending to visit farms and/or game reserves, avoid coming into contact with animal tissues or blood, avoid drinking unpasteurized or uncooked meat or eating raw meat," it added.

"All travellers should take appropriate precautions against bites from mosquitoes and other blood sucking insects."

Rift Valley fever is a viral disease in livestock such as cattle, sheep and camels, but can also infect humans through indirect or direct contact with infected animal blood or organs.

"Human infections have also resulted from the bites of infected mosquitoes," the WHO noted.

The advice emerged just weeks before football's World Cup, when thousands of football supporters are expected to travel to South Africa.

Most human cases of the disease, which is prevalent in east and north Africa, are mild, according to a WHO factsheet, but it has been deadly in an average of less than one percent of cases with a more severe haemorrhagic form.

The statement said the South African government had confirmed 186 cases of the viral fever in humans by May 10, including 18 deaths, in five provinces: Free State, Eastern, Western and Northern Cape, as well as North West Province.

It was not immediately clear when the outbreak began.

The WHO said an initially suspected case in a German tourist, who fell ill on April 7 after visiting game reserves and rural areas, had been ruled out by laboratory tests.

"Travel medicine professionals and travel medicine services should be aware of the current RVF situation in South Africa in order to provide advice and care accordingly," the UN health agency said.

© 2010 AFP

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