PESHAWAR: The cases of Congo fever are on the rise in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as one of the four patients admitted to Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) Peshawar died of the disease.

The health department has asked the relevant officials in all the districts of the province to send specimens from the suspected patients to the public health reference laboratory at Khyber Medical University.

The health experts have warned the people against coming into close contact with animals at cattle markets or during sacrificial rituals on Eidul Azha. They have asked for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests at the district hospitals for immediate diagnosis as health facilities have started receiving patients infected with Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF).

“CCHF is usually transmitted by ticks and through contact with infected animal via blood. Last year, a Class-IV employee died when he came into contact with an infected patient at one of the medical teaching institutions. Bites by ticks cause the infection,” said a senior physician.

Health dept directs district officials to send specimen to KMU lab for test

The doctors at Hayatabad Medical Complex admitted four Congo fever patients. Two of the patients were confirmed while the others were being investigated when one of them breathed his last.

“The cases of Congo virus are on the rise as currently four patients are under-treatment at one of the medical wards only. Two of the patients could afford the Congo PCR from Aga Khan University and Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Reaserch Centre that charge Rs15,000 and Rs13,000, respectively, for the tests,” a physician told Dawn few hours ago the death of one of the patients.

On Wednesday, the staffers of the hospital were collecting contributions to conduct PCR tests of the other two patients but a team from directorate-general of health services (DGHS), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, visited the hospital and informed them that the investigations could be conducted free of cost at public health reference laboratory of Khyber Medical University.

“We are also issuing a circular to ask all the hospitals throughout the province to dispatch specimens from the suspected patients to the KMU,” a senior official at DGHS told Dawn.

The KMU laboratory is also conducting PCR tests to diagnose not only Congo but also cholera, typhoid, dengue and Covid-19. “The PHRL is receiving four to five samples per day. We have informed the medical superintendents of district headquarters hospitals and directors of the medical teaching institutions to send samples to PHRL,” said the official.

Physicians at the hospitals want the health department to ensure that the tests are conducted at the district level hospitals. “During Covid-19, the health department established 17 PCR laboratories in as many districts, therefore, those should be used for Congo tests also. It will take much longer for the districts to send samples to Peshawar and wait for results,” a senior physician said.

Officials, however, said that it required specialised staff, currently available only in PHRL, to conduct Congo PCR tests.

The physician said that each medical teaching institution had the machine to conduct PCR tests for Covid-19. He added that KMU only needed to purchase the probe to make that possible.

“If we cannot control the disease, it least we can help those, who suffer from it, by offering to them a test, which is beyond affordability of people in the current economic hardship. The disease can transmit from one infected human to another by contact with infectious blood or body fluids. The patients require supportive medication, anti-viral drugs and maintenance of fluids level in their bodies,” he said.

The health expert said that government needed to direct the relevant department to ensure that the people did not come into contact with animals and stay safe from the disease, which had about 40pc mortality.

In normal days, only the professional people, such as butchers and cleaners at the slaughter house risk the Congo fever but now the risk is high as people are visiting cattle markets to buy sacrificial animals for Eidul Azha.

“People use to roam with sacrificial animal before Eid in the streets and on Eid day. It is considered a religious obligation to touch the animal, which endangers their lives,” said the physician.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2022

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