Congo virus a slippery killer


Ppi July 11, 2010

KARACHI: The recent death of a butcher, who was diagnosed with the Congo Crimean Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF), was discussed in a meeting at the Karachi University (KU) in order to determine when and how the unfortunate man from Landhi contracted the virus.

The butcher had visited several hospitals and had eventually succumbed to the disease that was left untreated, representatives of the Pakistan Society for Microbiology (PSM), Infection Control Society of Pakistan (ICSP) and Biosafety Association of Pakistan (BSAP) discussed on Sunday, who also debated over the ramifications for people who came in contact with the butcher.

The government is taking measures to control the spread of CCHF in Karachi, KU’s professor Dr Shahana Kazmi and Dr Rafique Khanani from the Dow Medical College informed the representatives while going over the details of a meeting they had attended with the officials of the Sindh health department on July 9.

All speakers at the meeting agreed that while the CCHF is prevalent in some parts of the country, the virus is not a serious concern due to its sporadic flare-ups. “However, we need to plan an effective national strategy to contain such infections,” said Sikandar Sherwani from the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology and Dr Ghulam Fatima from the Civil Hospital Karachi along with other speakers, who explained that the CCHF is a tick-borne zoonotic viral infection, caused by the Nairo Virus.

People who contract the CCHF have a mortality rate of 30 per cent, while in 75 per cent of the cases, the virus marks its onset with signs of a hemorrhage within three to five days, along with instable moods, mental confusion, nose bleeds, gum bleeds, vomiting, blood in urine and blood in stool.

People can contract the virus through tick bites or exposure to infected blood, bodily secretions or excretions.

The virus can be diagnosed after sera samples are taken from the patients and are screened for IgG and IgM antibodies through the Eliza method. Speakers said, however, that the PCR is a more reliable tool for the diagnosis of the virus, but is available at very few medical centres across the city.

The contraction of CCHF can only be prevented with the help of an antiviral drug called Ribavirin, the speakers said, who added that the best way to fight the virus is to create awareness among people regarding precautionary measures.

The medical experts also elaborated on the risks of all bacterial and viral pathogens, as they represent potential public safety threats. They added that the especially dangerous pathogens (EDPs), such as Plague, Anthrax, Dengue and CCHF, are of particular concern because of their ability to cause lethal infections that spread quickly and trigger outbreaks with the potential of developing into neurodegenerative complications, such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Subacute Sclerosing Pan Encephalitis (SSPE).

Healthcare workers, laboratory technicians and paramedical staff, along with butchers and farmers should therefore be provided with training regarding biosafety methods, the experts said, who added that the prevalence of CCHF should also be monitored at centres across the country, where patients can be diagnosed and stopped from exposing themselves to other people.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th,  2010.

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