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Rift Valley fever in Kenya: history of epizootics and identification of vulnerable districts

  • R. M. MURITHI (a1), P. MUNYUA (a1), P. M. ITHONDEKA (a1), J. M. MACHARIA (a1), A. HIGHTOWER (a2), E. T. LUMAN (a3), R. F. BREIMAN (a2) and M. KARIUKI NJENGA (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 18 May 2010

Since Kenya first reported Rift Valley fever (RVF)-like disease in livestock in 1912, the country has reported the most frequent epizootics of RVF disease. To determine the pattern of disease spread across the country after its introduction in 1912, and to identify regions vulnerable to the periodic epizootics, annual livestock disease records at the Department of Veterinary Services from 1910 to 2007 were analysed in order to document the number and location of RVF-infected livestock herds. A total of 38/69 (55%) administrative districts in the country had reported RVF epizootics by the end of 2007. During the 1912–1950 period, the disease was confined to a district in Rift Valley province that is prone to flooding and where livestock were raised in proximity with wildlife. Between 1951 and 2007, 11 national RVF epizootics were recorded with an average inter-epizootic period of 3·6 years (range 1–7 years); in addition, all epizootics occurred in years when the average annual rainfall increased by more than 50% in the affected districts. Whereas the first two national epizootics in 1951 and 1955 were confined to eight districts in the Rift Valley province, there was a sustained epizootic between 1961 and 1964 that spread the virus to over 30% of the districts across six out of eight provinces. The Western and Nyanza provinces, located on the southwestern region of the country, had never reported RVF infections by 2007. The probability of a district being involved in a national epizootic was fivefold higher (62%) in districts that had previously reported disease compared to districts that had no prior disease activity (11%). These findings suggests that once introduced into certain permissive ecologies, the RVF virus becomes enzootic, making the region vulnerable to periodic epizootics that were probably precipitated by amplification of resident virus associated with heavy rainfall and flooding.

Corresponding author
*Author for correspondence: Dr M. Kariuki Njenga, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Kenya, Unit 8900, DPO, AE 09831-6610. (Email:
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