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FAO starts emergency project to control possible Rift Valley Fever outbreak in Iraq

FAO starts emergency project to control possible Rift Valley Fever outbreak in Iraq

The United Nations food agency today announced the launch of a new project aimed at preventing the outbreak of a highly contagious disease in Iraq which threatens both the country's livestock and its people.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Rift Valley Fever is already prevalent in countries neighbouring Iraq. Spread mainly by mosquitoes and the movement of animals, the illness causes abortion and mortality in sheep, goat, cattle, buffaloes and camels. In humans, it can cause flu-like symptoms, sometimes leading to death.

"The disease is usually found in Africa, but it has recently been diagnosed in the Middle East," said Roger Paskin, FAO Animal Health Officer. "Yemen and Saudi Arabia are currently infected, and there is a real danger that the virus could spread into Iraq," he added, stressing the need to monitor the situation in order to control a possible outbreak.

As a precautionary measure, the Iraqi Government has sent four teams of veterinarians to the Saudi Arabian border zone, FAO said, adding that it will send a specialist as well as materials for blood sample collection and laboratory analysis. The Iraqi Veterinary Services currently lack the necessary laboratory supplies to carry out effective monitoring and diagnosis, according to the agency.

"By the end of the six-month project, we expect the collection of around 14,000 blood samples from animals that give us a clear idea if the Rift Valley Fever virus has spread to Iraq or not," said Mr. Paskin. "We strongly urge other countries in the region to take similar precautionary measures."