Virus Code Red

By Jocelyn Selim
Mar 31, 2005 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 6:40 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

The deadly Rift Valley fever virus is on the move. First detected during the 1930s in southern Africa, the mosquito-borne pathogen had crossed the Sahara into Egypt by 1977 and by 1999 had traversed the Red Sea into Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Now it seems poised to enter the United States—and the results could be devastating.

“To say that Rift Valley fever makes West Nile look like a hiccup is an understatement,” says Mike Turell, a specialist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Like West Nile, Rift Valley fever spreads rapidly in the warm weather mosquitoes favor. But Rift Valley fever is much more devastating. Most people who get West Nile don’t even know it, but 90 percent of those infected with the Rift Valley fever virus become demonstrably ill. Symptoms range from weakness and feverish illness to blindness and Ebola-like hemorrhaging. Victims are 10 times more likely to die from it than West Nile.

If Rift Valley fever comes to the United States, it will most likely get here the way most scientists think West Nile did—via a mosquito on an airplane. “While the chance of any particular mosquito-borne virus hitching a ride on an airplane and surviving in the U.S. is like winning the lottery, somebody always wins the lottery,” Turell says. “So it’s more a question of when.”

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.