African yellow fever outbreak could spread to Europe, says Save the Children

A deadly virus sweeping across parts of Africa in the largest epidemic for decades could soon spread to Europe and the rest of the world, a charity has warned.

Save the Children says yellow fever has claimed nearly 500 lives, with thousands of suspected cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Angola.

The World Health Organisation has warned the figures could rise to 10 to 50 times higher as the largest outbreak to hit the region for 30 years sees global emergency vaccine stocks emptied.

A campaign, supported by the charity, to vaccinate the Congolese capital of Kinshasa will begin on Wednesday, in a bid to stop the virus spreading through the city's population of more than 10 million.

Heather Kerr, Save the Children's country director for the DRC, said: "There is no known cure for yellow fever and it could go global.

"The mass vaccination campaign in Kinshasa needs to take place now so that we can try and stop yellow fever spreading by land and air to more cities in Africa and across the world."

There are just seven million emergency vaccines available for the mass inoculation, which Save the Children says is too few to cover the city, let alone the whole DRC.

The charity's Emergency Health Unit will be deployed to support the DRC's Ministry of Health as it targets around half a million people over 10 days.

To reach as many as possible with the limited supplies, the campaign will use a fifth of a regular vaccine dose, which provides stop-gap immunity for about a year instead of lifelong protection.

"We've got to urgently reach as many children and families as we can with the supplies that are left, and this is the only way we are able to do that right now," Ms Kerr added.

"We can only hope this will be enough to stop the epidemic spreading any further."

Yellow fever is a virus which causes bleeding from the ears, eyes and nose, organ failure and jaundice in the final stages of infection.

The virus is spread by mosquitoes, with rapid transmission in hot and humid environments. In this outbreak, Save the Children says around 20% of those who have caught it have died.