Rift valley fever is a zoonosis caused by phleboviruses. The abbreviation of Rift valley fever is RVF and derives from the English term 'Rift valley fever'. The Rift valley fever is especially in ruminants as a hemorrhagic fever and is transferable to humans. Patients suffer from flu-like symptoms that may lead to death.

What is Rift Valley fever?

The first description of the Rift valley fever took place in 1913 in the Rift Valley in Kenya. Basically phleboviruses transmit the Rift valley fever. It is an infectious disease in ruminants, which sometimes manifests itself as a haemorrhagic fever in humans. In 1931, a first epidemic of Rift valley fever developed, after which the disease spread throughout Africa.

Only in the Sahara and north of the desert is the Rift valley fever hardly. When Rift valley fever first hit the Arabian Peninsula in 2000, the disease was fatal to more than 160 people. The virus of Rift Valley fever usually affects only ruminants such as cattle, sheep, goats and camels. However, Rift valley fever can also be transmitted to humans through special vectors, for example by mosquitoes of the genera Aedes or Culex. In the European area the Rift Valley fever has not happened yet.


The triggers of Rift valley fever are special phleboviruses. Viruses are transmitted to humans primarily through vectors. In Rift valley fever mosquitoes in particular function as transmitters of the disease. The virus itself is one of the Bunyaviridae, which preferentially transmit the mosquito species Aedes and Culex.

In addition to infection by mosquitoes, some people also come into contact with ruminants due to Rift valley fever. A special risk is exposed to people who live or travel in the main areas of Rift valley fever. Rift Valley fever disease is more likely to be due to contact or ingestion of raw meat, blood or faeces from infected animals.

In addition, some patients are infected by germs in the air on Rift valley fever. In addition, a transfer of Rift valley fever between humans by the exchange of blood is possible. For this reason, treatment of patients in strict quarantine is required.

Symptoms, complaints & signs

The Rift valley fever manifests itself in humans with a tendency to nonspecific symptoms, which are similar to those of a flu disease. The symptoms of Rift valley fever usually begin after an incubation period of three to ten days after infection with the pathogen. As a result of Rift Valley fever, patients suffer from headaches and muscle, increased body temperature and nausea.

Occasionally caused by the Rift Valley fever severe courses in which people get sick of meningitis, hepatitis or encephalitis. In addition, Rift Valley fever causes some people to develop hemorrhagic fever and retinitis. In severe cases, patients are blinded by Rift valley fever. Basically, the Rift Valley fever in humans occurs especially in the context of epidemics in animals.

Patients either become infected by air or by contact with sick ruminants. About one percent of those affected developed severe hemorrhagic fever and hepatitis a few days after the onset of Rift valley fever. Numerous people die from the complications. If the fever stops, some people develop fatal inflammation of the meninges and retinal inflammation.

Diagnosis & disease course

The diagnosis of Rift valley fever should be made by a specialist, for example a doctor specializing in tropical diseases or zoonoses. The patient's history takes into account possible contact with infected animals as well as stays in risk areas of Rift valley fever. Blood analysis plays an important role in the clinical investigation of people with Rift valley fever.

From the fourth day after the beginning of Rift valley fever an infection serology is feasible. The doctor detects the virus and the corresponding antibodies. In this way, a relatively safe diagnosis of Rift valley fever is possible.


Rift valley fever can sometimes lead to serious health complications. Often people get sick with meningitis, hepatitis or encephalitis. As a result of meningitis it can lead to blood poisoning, septic shock and finally organ failure and death.

Among other things, hepatitis can cause cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, while encephalitis usually causes seizures or swelling of the brain. In severe cases, Rift valley fever can cause a hemorrhagic fever and retinitis (inflammation of the retina). In many people, these complications are deadly. Treatment with ribavirin is associated with various side effects.

Common complaints are rashes, redness and swelling of the skin and a slight cramping of the respiratory muscles. Less common are headache, shortness of breath, accelerated or decelerated breathing, coughing, or mild anemia. In some cases severe anemia can occur. In combination with other preparations such as interferon alpha 2b may also dry mouth, muscle, bone and joint complaints and a number of other interactions occur. In children, growth disorders, behavioral problems, fatigue and in existing heart disease disturbances of heart function may occur.

When should you go to the doctor?

With muco-purulent nasal discharge, fever and diarrhea may be due to the Rift valley fever. If the symptoms mentioned occur after direct contact with infected animals (such as at slaughter), a doctor must be consulted. At the latest, when a pronounced hemorrhagic fever occurs, medical advice is needed. The disease can be fatal if left untreated. Therefore, fever symptoms that indicate a serious condition must be examined and treated. In case of vision problems or signs of meningitis, the emergency doctor should be called immediately.

The patient is in acute danger to his life and needs immediate intensive medical treatment. The Rift valley fever is treated by a specialist in internal medicine or a specialist in zoonoses. A medical examination is also necessary because of the high risk of infection and the resulting obligation to report. Risk patients such as butchers or shepherds should pay particular attention to any signs of illness and in case of doubt visit the family doctor. Particularly at risk are people who are in risk areas such as Senegal, Egypt, Kenya, Sudan, Namibia or Saudi Arabia.

Treatment & Therapy

The disease of Rift valley fever is always reportable, both in the case of an animal and in humans. Currently, there are still no ways to cure the Rift Valley fever in sick people. In animal experiments, the medicinal substance ribavirin has shown some efficacy.

In principle, it is recommended for travelers in risk areas to carry out an exposure prophylaxis and thus to prevent Rift valley fever. Accordingly, the use of insect repellent and protective clothing is recommended. Although there are already vaccines against Rift Valley fever with relatively good efficacy. Their use is not yet allowed in Germany.

With regard to the lack of curative therapeutic options, the treatment of Rift valley fever is primarily symptomatic. In severe cases of Rift valley fever patients receive the antibiotic drug ribavirin.


Safe prevention of Rift valley fever is not possible. However, the Rift valley fever can be partially prevented by certain precautions. Thus, exposure prophylaxis is of great importance for humans in the endemic regions. In addition to protection against mosquitoes by insect repellents and long clothing and contact with sick ruminants should be avoided. Even touching or eating raw meat and blood is not recommended. Vaccines against the Rift valley fever are present, but currently not yet usable in Germany.


The Rift valley fever belongs to the group of tropical diseases. Both cattle and humans can get sick. Germany is not one of the affected areas, possible isolated cases are caused by immigrants and have to be reported. The fever can be fatal. For this reason, aftercare is needed.

Consequential damage such as blindness or meningitis must be averted by a consistent follow-up treatment. If a tourist wants to enter an affected region such as Africa or the Arabian Peninsula, it does not make sense to provide aftercare, but to make provision for it. Before the trip, a prophylactic therapy is performed. According to the current state of research, it is not possible to medically cure the Rift valley fever, the symptoms have to subside by themselves.

Nevertheless, methods for maintaining vital signs are necessary. Simultaneous symptom relief is also advisable, depending on the severity of the symptoms. Some sufferers are symptom-free or suffer from only a slight fever, in others, the disease is life-threatening. Average duration of Rift valley fever is one week.

As part of the aftercare, the patient is stabilized, but a follow-up after a healed fever is not useful. Preventive procedures can protect against re-infection and should therefore be used under medical supervision.

You can do that yourself

If signs of Rift valley fever are noticed, the doctor should first be consulted. Suffering is notifiable and should be reported and treated promptly.

Accompanying the medical treatment, the patient should rest and pay attention to a gentle diet. Airy, breathable clothing counteracts the fever. The diet should consist of light diet, such as steamed vegetables or soup, so that the circulation is relieved. As a rule of thumb, one liter of liquid must be additionally drunk per degree of temperature increase. Since the fever disease is usually associated with vomiting and diarrhea, it is also important to drink enough. The body temperature is regulated by cooling envelopes. Headaches are homeopathic preparations. After the first days the bed can be left. Then moderate exercise and the avoidance of stress help to quickly cure the suffering. Accompanying this continues to be gentle.

If the symptoms get worse, the doctor must be informed. Zoonosis can be fatal in rare cases. Therefore, unusual complaints should always be clarified by a doctor. If the condition is recurring, cause research is also indicated. Perhaps the Rift valley fever is transmitted by a sick animal in the area or there is an immunodeficiency, which increases the risk of such diseases.

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