Another outbreak?: Congo virus threatens lives, warn doctors

Published: October 7, 2013

4 butchers died after being infected with Congo virus in September, many cases go unreported. PHOTO: STANFORD

ISLAMABAD: Amid the paralysing spread of polio in Fata and Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the Congo virus may be the next epidemic to hit the country.

The virus may be a serious threat to human lives if timely precautionary measures are not taken, warned Dr Muhammad Najeeb Khan Durrani, the senior Surveillance Coordinator Communicable Diseases, Islamabad.

People in areas of Punjab, K-P and Balochistan have been exposed to the deadly virus, Dr Durrani, who is also member of the Global Outbreak Alert Response Network, told The Express Tribune.

People think that because of the name, Congo virus cannot be found in Pakistan, which is an ignorant assumption, he said. “Congo virus is a reality in the country.”

The virus causes Crimean- Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) – a widespread tickborne viral disease in domestic and wild animals that affects humans. Domestic animals brought from Afghanistan to Pakistan through the border at Chaman carry the infectious

ticks.

The disease spreads among the animals through the ticks. In humans, it is spread by close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals or persons.

The virus was initially found in Loralai in 2006 where some butchers and livestock buyers died because of the disease, revealed Dr Durrani. Authorities took immediate precautionary measures then and it was made mandatory for Afghan sheep to cross a pond filled with virus-killing medicine. This precautionary practice continued for some time that helped in the Congo virus prevention.

However, the practice has not continued for a few years due to negligence.

The recent outbreak of virus was reported on September 7 in Haripur when four butchers lost their lives after they slaughtered and touched themeat of a sheep. Sohrab Ahmed, president of the Butchers’ Association of Haripur, while narrating the death of the four butchers, told The Express Tribune that the sheep were bought from the animal’s market in Hazro, Attock. Ahmed said it is a known fact that the animals sold at the Hazro market are being brought over from Afghanistan.

The district administration of Haripur immediately imposed a ban on the slaughtering of animals for seven days and arranged for a vaccine spray in the meat shops and houses of butchers. The butchers have also been provided with safety kits that include masks, hand gloves and aprons that they still used.

Generally, sheep, cow and other animals are exported to Afghanistan from Pakistan via the Torkham border but a large number of lambs are also brought for grazing in the mountainous areas of Balochistan from the eastern neighboring country.

After the Afghan lambs are two to three years old, they are sold to local businessmen and cattle traders in Pakistan. “It is most of the Afghan sheep that carry the infectious tick, which spreads the Congo virus in Balochistan, Punjab and K-P,” said Dr Durrani.

CONGO VIRUS FACTS

• Outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 40%

• Human transmission occurs from close contact with blood, secretions, organs infected animal/human

• It is endemic in Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and Asia

• There is no vaccine available for either people or animals

SOURCE: WHO

SYMPTOMS

Onset of symptoms is sudden, with fever, myalgia, (muscle ache), dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and photophobia (sensitivity to light). There may be nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and sore throat early on, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion.

SOURCE: WHO

Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2013.

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