Two Congo virus-related deaths cause alarm in Pakistan

A total of 16 cases of the virus found in Balochistan province since the beginning of the year, of which 11 were detected this month.

Congo virus
A health worker in Iraq holds a vial containing ticks that cause the disease [File: Asaad Niazi/AFP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan health authorities are alarmed after two people died of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) virus in the country’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces.

The first death from the disease, commonly known as Congo fever, was reported on Friday in Karachi, the country’s largest city and capital of the southern Sindh province.

According to the provincial health authorities, the 28-year-old man was a butcher by profession, who first complained of fever on April 30.

When his condition did not improve, he was taken to a city hospital two days later where his health continued to deteriorate. But his tests for dengue and malaria were negative.

On Thursday, he was moved to intensive care after testing positive for the CCHF virus. He died the next day.

On Sunday, a 20-year-old woman died of Congo fever in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern province of Balochistan.

Dr Lal Jan, a government health official in Balochistan, told Al Jazeera the woman was admitted to a hospital in Quetta last week.

According to Jan, there have been a total of 16 positive cases of the CCHF virus in Balochistan since the beginning of the year, of which 11 were detected this month.

“We are conducting tests for any suspected cases while also working on treatment and spreading awareness. As the disease is caused by animals, our livestock department is working on deworming and treating animals which are entering the province,” he said.

According to Jan, at least four patients are currently being treated for the disease in a government hospital in the province.

“We have created isolation wards for the patients and are providing them the required treatment,” he said.

According to the World Health Organization, Congo fever is caused by a tick-borne virus (nairovirus). It sees people suffering from severe viral haemorrhagic fever outbreaks, with a case fatality rate of 10-40 percent.

Its symptoms include fever, muscle ache, dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and photophobia (sensitivity to light). It can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, sore throat and sharp mood swings.

The WHO says the disease is endemic in Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and some parts of Asia.

The hosts of the CCHF virus include a wide range of wild and domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and other livestock.

The WHO says the virus is transmitted to people either by tick bites or through contact with infected animal blood or tissues during and immediately after slaughter.

The health body says there is no vaccine available for either people or animals infected with the virus.

Source: Al Jazeera