Rift Valley fever (RVF) virus historically has caused widespread and extensive outbreaks of severe human and livestock disease throughout Africa, Madagascar, and the Arabian Peninsula. Following unusually heavy rainfall during the late autumn of 2006, reports of human and animal illness consistent with RVF virus infection emerged across semiarid regions of the Garissa District of northeastern Kenya and southern Somalia. Following initial RVF virus laboratory confirmation, a high-throughput RVF diagnostic facility was established at the Kenyan Central Veterinary Laboratories in Kabete, Kenya, to support the real-time identification of infected livestock and to facilitate outbreak response and control activities. A total of 3,250 specimens from a variety of animal species, including domesticated livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, and camels) and wildlife collected from a total of 55 of 71 Kenyan administrative districts, were tested by molecular and serologic assays. Evidence of RVF infection was found in 9.2% of animals tested and across 23 districts of Kenya, reflecting the large number of affected livestock and the geographic extent of the outbreak. The complete S, M, and/or L genome segment sequence was obtained from a total of 31 RVF virus specimens spanning the entire known outbreak period (December-May) and geographic areas affected by RVF virus activity. Extensive genomic analyses demonstrated the concurrent circulation of multiple virus lineages, gene segment reassortment, and the common ancestry of the 2006/2007 outbreak viruses with those from the 1997-1998 east African RVF outbreak. Evidence of recent increases in genomic diversity and effective population size 2 to 4 years prior to the 2006-2007 outbreak also was found, indicating ongoing RVF virus activity and evolution during the interepizootic/epidemic period. These findings have implications for further studies of basic RVF virus ecology and the design of future surveillance/diagnostic activities, and they highlight the critical need for safe and effective vaccines and antiviral compounds to combat this significant veterinary and public health threat.
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