The festival of festivals, Eidul Azha, is just around the corner. The excitement has begun. Many people have already purchased their sacrificial animals, while those who haven’t aren’t going to leave it too late. The animals just have to be bought and cared for well in advance or there is no fun.

No child, or adult for that matter, in Pakistan can claim that they haven’t petted, pampered or cared for a sacrificial animal. After all, this is part of the spirit behind remembering the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim on Eidul Azha.

But this time things are a bit different and dangerous too. Though we don’t want to scare you all, but you need to be careful about the contact you make with the sacrificial animals and the health status of the animal as the Congo virus is here. You must have heard about cases of this disease in people and almost two dozen people have died from it this year alone in Pakistan.

There is an estimated 10–30 per cent fatality rate in humans and so far no vaccine is available for human use. In such a scenario, the only way to prevent people from catching this is through raising awareness and adopting precautionary measures.

Let us learn more about this disease so that we can stay safe and healthy during Eidul Azha when there is a greater risk of the spread of this disease.

What is Congo virus?

Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, or Congo virus, is viral infection transmitted by Hyalomma ticks to both animals and humans. The virus is transmitted by ticks living in the skins of goats, cows, buffalos and camels, feeding on their blood. The disease is rare in infected animals, who mostly act as carriers of the disease which they transmit, it is severe in infected humans.

It is prevalent in Asia, Africa, Middle East and South-Eastern Europe. Though cases have been reported throughout the year, the disease is more common between March to October. So right now the ticks are very active and can easily spread to other animals, places where livestock are kept and humans too.

Infestation

People can get Congo virus by:

• Being bitten directly by the tick.

• Humans and animals can transmit the virus to other humans.

• Through contact with infected animal blood or tissues during and immediately after slaughter.

• Human-to-human transmission can occur by close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected persons.

• Hospital-acquired infections can also occur due to improper sterilisation of medical equipment, reuse of needles and contamination of medical supplies.

Symptoms

After an incubation period of one to three days following a tick bite or five to six days after exposure to infected blood or tissues, flu-like symptoms appear, which may resolve after one week. But in many cases, signs of haemorrhage appear within three to five days of the onset of the first symptoms.

Symptoms include high fever, vomiting, diarrheal, red eyes, bleeding and severe body pain, especially in the joints, abdominal pain and sore throat, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion.

As the condition gets severe, bleeding from gums, skin and large intestine may also occur and red spots appear on the body. The bleeding is due to the shortage of white cells that this disease causes and this can be very dangerous.

Anyone who shows these symptoms needs to be immediately taken to the hospital as early diagnosis is important in saving the patient’s life. Recovery starts after the tenth day or so.

Precautions

• To avoid tick bites, people who go near animals or the cattle market should cover their face, hands, feet and so on. They should wear light coloured clothes so that a tick can be easily seen if it sticks on their clothes.

• Long pants tucked into boots and long-sleeved shirts should be worn.

• Avoid touching or going too close to animals that may have ticks or those that have been bought from markets where they have been in contact with many other animals from all over the country.

• Contact with infected blood or tissues should also be avoided. Protective clothing and gloves should be used when handling infected animals, particularly when blood and tissues are handled.

• Unpasteurised milk should not be drunk. In meat, the virus is usually deactivated by post-slaughter acidification. It is also killed by cooking.

• Use tick repellents.

• Acaricides, which are pesticides that kill ticks and mites, can be used on livestock and other domesticated animals to control ticks, particularly where they are kept and before slaughter.

• The waste material of sacrificial animals should be disposed properly.

The safest way to avoid Congo virus is to control your enthusiasm this year and don’t pet and play as freely with them as you have been doing previously. I know it is hard, but in the case of Congo virus, prevention is better than cure.

Published in Dawn, Young World, September 3rd, 2016

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