Call for urgent steps to prevent Congo virus epidemic

Karachi, 18 August 2016: Public health experts have asked the provincial health and livestock authorities to ensure inspections of sacrificial animals, insecticide sprays at cattle markets and the establishment of isolation wards at major hospitals to prevent an outbreak of Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) in Karachi ahead of Eid-ul-Azha.

“Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) is a lethal disease caused by Congo virus which is present in a tick, present on animals. A large number of people, especially children would be coming into contact with sacrificial animals before Eid-ul-Azha in September and might get infected with Congo virus from infected animals,” they said at a news conference at the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Wednesday afternoon.

The press conference was addressed by Prof Dr Zafar Fatemi, a community medicine expert of the Aga Khan University Hospital, Dr Atif Hafeez, president of the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) Karachi, renowned hematologist Dr Saqib Ansari, Dr Adeel Ahmed Khan and Dr Zeeshan Ansari.

Dr Fatemi said over 109 cases of Congo fever had been reported in Pakistan so far. He said Congo fever was a highly lethal disease, in which mortality was extremely high and an infected person seldom lived after exposure to the virus.

“Butchers are at risk of getting infected by the Congo virus and they can pass on the infection to doctors and paramedics. There is an immediate need to take precautionary measures to prevent an epidemic of the extremely deadly hemorrhagic fever caused by Congo virus.”

Dr Fatemi said symptoms appeared in one to five days usually, but in some cases they showed even on the 13th day of a person becoming infected. He added that symptoms included extreme headache, high grade fever, bone ache, bleeding from different parts of the body and difficulty in breathing.

“Treatment is mostly supportive after the patient is kept in isolation to keep others from getting the disease. This disease is mostly found in the animals of Pashtun areas of Balochistan and Sindh’s border areas with Punjab and Balochistan,” he said and advised prevention as the way to avoid getting the disease.

He recommended that all animals being brought to Karachi for sacrifice should be thoroughly checked by livestock experts and those found infected should be properly disposed of, while all other animals should be sprayed with insecticides.

PIMA Karachi President Dr Atif Hafeez said the first CCHF case was observed in the 1987-88 in Karachi and later in 2002 a senior neurosurgeon of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre died of the disease.

“As we all know that this deadly virus and disease is present on our soil, so our government should adopt a proactive approach and try to prevent its epidemic instead of waiting for some deaths,” he observed and urged the government to increase surveillance of sacrificial animals and establish isolation wards at government hospitals in the city.

Dr Hafeez said PIMA, which was a representative body of health experts, could provide technical assistance to the government in taking preventive measures. He added that their experts along with livestock experts could help prepare a comprehensive strategy to deal with the disease.

He also urged the people, especially children, to wash their hands with soap after touching animals before and on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha. He also advised the butchers to use gloves, face masks and proper gowns.

Renowned hematologist Dr Saqib Ansari said they did not want to create chaos as thousands of people were associated with the livestock sector, but there was an immediate need to reform the sector and take precautionary measures to prevent the loss of human lives due to viral infections.

“I would urge the government to take steps for the inspection of sacrificial animals to ensure that infected animals are discarded properly. Insecticides should be used to remove and kill ticks carrying the deadly virus and people should be trained to deal with animals without getting infected.”

Dr Adeel Ahmed Khan from the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) called for using Acaricites chemicals to kill deadly ticks, while Dr Zeeshan Ansari talked about the symptoms and supportive treatment of CCHF patients, who, he said, should be kept in isolation and given supportive medicines.

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