Orma Boran cattle crossing a river in Kenya

Orma Boran cattle crossing a river in Kenya. Both cattle and people can be infected with Rift Valley fever (photo credit: ILRI /Rosemary Dolan).

Recent climate predictions suggest East Africa may be in line for an epidemic of Rift Valley fever – an infectious disease which can hit people, their livestock and livelihoods, and national economies hard.

Data from the Climate Prediction Center and International Research Institute for Climate and Society suggest there is a 99.9% chance there will be an El Niño occurrence this year, with a 90% chance it will last until March/April 2016.

At least two of the most recent Rift Valley fever epidemics in East Africa—those in 1997-98 and 2006-07—were associated with El Niño weather patterns, with Kenya suffering losses amounting to US$32 million.

Given the strong predictions of an El Niño occurrence, and the established association between El Niño and Rift Valley fever risk, countries in the Horn of Africa need to start preparing to manage the developing risk.

In particular, public education on the linkages between the expected weather patterns and disease risk is vital to minimize human exposure to the disease should an epidemic occur.

Read the full article by Bernard Bett, a veterinary epidemiologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).