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Rift Valley Fever and above average rains

 [Mercy Kahenda, Standard]

I am a resident of Kajiado County, and I raise goats, sheep, and cattle on my ancestral farm, which is fenced off from neighboring farms. Recently, I heard radio announcements warning of a heightened risk of Rift Valley fever following the above-average rains experienced in January. I'm concerned about whether my animals could be at risk and what measures I can take to prevent them from being infected.

Dear Samuel, thank you for your timely question. Despite your animals being within a fenced area, they could still be at risk. While fencing protects them from predators and other diseases spread by vectors, Rift Valley fever is primarily spread by several types of mosquitoes.

Outbreaks often follow periods of heavy rainfall, such as the recent El Niño rains, which create conditions conducive to increased mosquito populations. Additionally, areas undergoing large excavations, like those for dam construction, can lead to water accumulation, further boosting mosquito numbers.

The announcements you heard aim to raise awareness in high-risk areas and encourage early reporting of suspected cases. Rift Valley fever is zoonotic, meaning it can spread from animals to humans.

Rift Valley fever, abbreviated as RVF, is a viral disease that affects camels, cattle, goats, sheep, and other ruminant wildlife, with potential transmission to humans. In animals, it spreads from mosquito bites during outbreaks following heavy rains. In humans, transmission occurs through contact with infected animal tissues, fluids, or blood, as well as through consuming contaminated animal products or mosquito bites.

Characteristic signs in animals include a sudden onset of abortions, especially in mature animals, along with fever, swollen lymph nodes, nasal and ocular discharge, and abdominal pain. In humans, symptoms include fever, headache, joint pains, weakness, gastrointestinal issues, and, if untreated, can lead to more severe complications.

 Preventive measures

When you suspect an animal has died of RVF, or is suspected to have been infected avoid contact with blood, body fluids, or tissues from such animals. Animal Health professionals should wear appropriate protective equipment (such as gloves, boots, long sleeves, and a face shield), when handling suspected or sick animals.  

Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after any contact with sick animals. Do not slaughter or handle sick or dead animals. All animal products (including meat, milk, and blood) should be thoroughly cooked before eating or drinking. Buy inspected meat.  If you feel sick visit the nearest health center.

 (Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and currently the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO but his own)

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