Rift Valley Fever
*The project depicted is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The content of the information does not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the federal government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.
Rift Valley fever (RVF) is considered a disease of special concern around the world. Caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, RVF has devastating impacts on livestock in parts of the world where people are most dependent on animals for their livelihoods and their daily food. The disease can also be deadly for people. It is largely found in sub-Saharan Africa but in 2000 the virus spread from the African continent into Saudi Arabia and into Yemen. Rift Valley fever most frequently causes abortions in livestock, especially sheep, and many virologists predict it could be the “Next West Nile” due to the likelihood that it could arrive in the Americas in a similar manner and cause significant economic costs. Despite the seriousness of the disease, little is known about where the virus lurks between outbreaks and this lack of understanding limits the potential opportunities for protecting people and animals.
When solving vexing problems of both animal and human health, a One Health approach is needed. For RVF, this means we need to investigate the links between the environment (weather, climate, soil and vegetation factors), mosquito and susceptible host characteristics, and human behavior in at-risk populations. EcoHealth Alliance has formed a coalition of partners including both national and local organizations in South Africa to improve their capacity for prevention, detection, and reporting of Rift Valley fever in people, livestock and wildlife. We are working with our South African partners to train to regional scientists and students; conduct population and individual level studies in a wide range of animals; collect and compare data related to weather, environment, and risk to people working with livestock; and disseminate information to stakeholders and people in high-risk occupations.
EcoHealth Alliance is at the forefront of a field that uses the One Health approach to predict the outbreak of novel and emerging diseases. The collective, multidisciplinary expertise working on this project brings together scientists that were the first to use climate-based prediction tools with researchers that have been at the forefront of developing diagnostic tests for RVF and experts who have worked through outbreaks on the ground, seeing first-hand the devastation an RVF outbreak can cause. As this collaborative work is continued, it will have a direct impact on methods of managing mosquitoes, wildlife and livestock, as well as reducing risk to humans in order prevent future outbreaks. The lessons learned in this project will likely be transferable to other nations in southern Africa and beyond. It will also better inform policy makers in the U.S. to develop contingency plans should a RVF outbreak occur on American soil.