A yellow fever epidemic has been confirmed in the Kayes region of western Mali, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.
The Malian government has notified WHO of 14 suspected yellow fever deaths and 21 suspected cases of the mosquito-borne disease recorded between 7 and 27 October, according to a WHO press statement.
WHO and the Malian health ministry – along with Medecins Sans Frontieres – have sent investigation and vaccination teams to the region.
A single case of yellow fever is officially an epidemic according to WHO classifications.
Among 14 blood specimens sent to the WHO yellow fever centre in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, four have tested positive for yellow fever.
The main city in the region, also called Kayes, is about 500 kilometres northwest of the Malian capital Bamako, close to the border with Senegal.
In late September, one case of yellow fever was confirmed in the eastern Senegalese city of Tambacounda, 250 kilometres from the city of Kayes.
Tambacounda and Kayes lie on the main overland trade route that links the Senegalese port city of Dakar with Mali’s landlocked capital.
WHO could not confirm whether the two epidemics were linked.
Yellow fever can spread rapidly especially in urban areas. The virus is often difficult to recognise in the early stages; symptoms can be confused with malaria, typhoid and other infections, according to WHO.
Though a vaccination is available, no treatment exists for the disease once contracted and the fatality rate can exceed 50 percent.
Following the confirmation of yellow fever in Senegal in September, health authorities carried out a vaccination campaign.
Mali and Senegal lie within a band, spanning 15 degrees north to 10 degrees south of the equator, where yellow fever is endemic, according to WHO.
In October, four cases of yellow fever were confirmed in the southeast of Burkina Faso, near the border with Cote d’Ivoire.
Then, WHO carried out mass vaccination campaigns on both sides of the border to prevent a spread to densely populated urban areas.
At the end of August WHO confirmed 10 cases of yellow fever, including five deaths, in the densely forested region of Fouta Djalon, south-eastern Guinea.