Dubai: The deadly Congo Virus has ‘attacked’ Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan, killing at least 20 people so far this year.
Health authorities in Karachi say the latest to die because of the Congo Virus on Monday was a man who had been admitted to a hospital. “It is not an outbreak, but the situaiton is very alarming,” said a health official.
On July 25, a Congo Virus alert was issued for the metropolis, stipulating precautionary instructions for all those visiting cattle markets or farms, ARY news reported.
The alert was issued by Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to hospitals, directing the management to adopt special precautions for a Congo-affected patient. The KMC has also asked hospitals to establish special wards for these patients and run awareness campaigns about the virus.
What is the Congo Virus?
Congo Virus, or Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), is a tick-borne viral disease that infects wild and domestic animals, including livestock. Humans can contract this disease by getting bitten by an infected tick living on the host animal or coming into contact with the blood, tissues or fresh meat of the infected animal. Human-to-human transmission is also possible in case of close contact with the organs, blood or other bodily fluids of the infected person, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“People, especially those living in the vicinity of cattle markets, are scared for fear of contracting the virus,” Jamil Akram, a resident of Karchi told Gulf News. He said that though some hospitals have set up special wards to treat patient[s], nothing has been done to check the outbreak of this deadly virus. He said that the government should take action on emergency basis before more lives are lost in the city.
The initial symptoms of Congo fever include headache, high fever, rashes, back pain, joint pain, stomach pain and vomiting.
Lethal viral infection
Experts say CCHF is a lethal viral infection that is transmitted to humans from animals, especially cattle and livestock. Patients are kept in isolation wards to prevent other patients, doctors and paramedics from contracting it. The mortality is at around 40 per cent, especially when patients are brought late to health facilities.
Officials of the health department in Karachi said they had established a surveillance system and isolation wards at all tertiary and district level hospitals.
Are non-vegetarians in danger?
The Congo Virus does not survive high temperatures, and well-cooked meat does not pose any risk of transmission of the virus. CCHF is endemic in Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and Asian countries.
The hosts of the CCHF virus include a wide range of wild and domestic animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. Many birds are resistant to infection, but ostriches are susceptible and may show a high prevalence of infection in endemic areas. For example, a former outbreak occurred at an ostrich abattoir in South Africa.
Animals become infected by the bite of infected ticks and the virus remains in their bloodstream for about one week, allowing the tick-animal-tick cycle to continue when another tick bites.
The CCHF virus is transmitted to people either by tick bites or through contact with infected animal blood or tissues during and immediately after slaughter. The majority of cases have occurred in people involved in the livestock industry such as agricultural workers, slaughterhouse workers and veterinarians.
Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected persons. Hospital-acquired infections can also occur due to improper sterilization of medical equipment, reuse of needles and contamination of medical supplies.
Signs and symptoms
The length of the incubation period depends on the mode of acquisition of the virus. Following infection by a tick bite, the incubation period is usually one to three days, with a maximum of nine days. The incubation period following contact with infected blood or tissues is usually five to six days, with a documented maximum of 13 days.
There are no vaccines available for use in animals. However, steps can be taken to reduce the risk of infection in people
Although an inactivated, mouse brain-derived vaccine against CCHF has been developed and used on a small scale in eastern Europe, there is currently no safe and effective vaccine widely available for human use.
In the absence of a vaccine, the only way to reduce infection in people is by raising awareness of the risk factors and educating people about the measures they can take to reduce exposure to the virus.
Reducing the risk of tick-to-human transmission:
Wear protective clothing (long sleeves, long trousers)
Wear light coloured clothing to allow easy detection of ticks on the clothes
Use approved acaricides (chemicals intended to kill ticks) on clothing
Use approved repellent on the skin and clothing;
Regularly examine clothing and skin for ticks
Eeek to eliminate or control tick infestations on animals
Wear gloves and other protective clothing while handling animals
Avoid close physical contact with CCHF-infected people
Wear gloves and protective equipment when taking care of ill people
Wash hands regularly after caring for or visiting ill people
If you get bitten by an infected tick, or come in close contact of an infected person or animal’s body fluids, seek immediate medical attention if you start showing the following symptoms. These symptoms appear within 1 to 3 days of the transmission and initially resemble symptoms of flu. As the disease progresses, you will most likely experience the following indications:
High grade fever
Myalgia (muscle aches)
Sensitivity to light
After 2 days, you may start showing additional symptoms including:
Localized abdominal pain in the upper right side
Rashes on the skin