Rift Valley fever: A Virus Even More Dangerous Than Zika to Pregnant Woman

Posted on January 09, 2019


The mosquito-borne virus that causes Rift Valley fever may severely injure human fetuses if contracted by mothers during pregnancy, according to new research. Rift Valley fever primarily occurs in livestock in sub-Saharan Africa, where outbreaks cause 90 to 100 percent of pregnant cows in a herd to miscarry or deliver stillborn calves, often a significant economic loss. 

But hundreds of cases also occur in humans each year, causing flu-like symptoms and severe liver problems. The outbreaks have moved beyond Africa: In late 2000, an outbreak in Saudi Arabia infected more than 100,000 people and led to at least 700 deaths, according to Dr. Hartman. The mosquito that carries the disease is also found in Europe and the Americas.

Two cases of infected fetuses have been documented. One infant was born with an enlarged liver and spleen, among other symptoms; the other died within a week. Because the disease can be asymptomatic in pregnant women, many more cases of abnormalities and stillbirths may have been misidentified.

There are no vaccines or treatments for Rift Valley fever. The World Health Organization has called the disease a potential public health emergency.

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