PESHAWAR: Alarm bells have started ringing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after the death of an Afghan national from Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever and the rising incidence of the tick-borne viral disease.

Health officials told Dawn that eight Congo fever cases had been reported in the province with three of them under treatment at Peshawar’s Hayatabad Medical Complex and one at the capital city’s Khyber Teaching Hospital.

They claimed that the HMC, a medical teaching institution, didn’t have any isolation ward for people infected with Congo fever, who were being “managed” in a private room.

Medical director at the HMC Prof Shehzad Akbar Khan denied the claim and said it was incorrect that the complex had no isolation facility for such cases.

Officials say eight cases of viral disease reported in province

“All arrangements are in place to manage Congo cases. We [HMC] have got just one [Congo fever] patient, who is admitted to a separate private room in line with the guidelines,” he said.

Meanwhile, a report from the health department said an Afghan national died of Congo fever at the Khyber Teaching Hospital on July 8, while another patient of the viral disease was under treatment at the hospital.

It added that three virus victims had been admitted to the HMC with each of them under treatment in a private room, an emergency room and a medical ward.

The report said that eight people aged from 22 to 65 years, including one woman, had so far been diagnosed with the fever in the province.

Health officials claimed that a Congo fever case left the hospital against the doctors’ advice as he was kept in a private room along with another patient.

They said no one knew about the whereabouts of that patient of the tick-borne viral disease.

Doctors told Dawn on condition of anonymity that all confirmed CCHF cases got into contact with sacrificial animals during the recent Eidul Azha festival.

They said the incubation period was 21 days, so the infection was appearing.

The doctors said the people used to roam the streets with sacrificial animals and thus, running the risk of contracting the tick-borne disease.

They said patients came to the hospital complaining about high fever, generalised body pain, headache, back, joint and stomach pain, red eyes and vomiting.

The doctors said the mortality rate in Congo fever patients was 40 per cent.

They said usually, only slaughterhouse workers, especially butchers and cleaners, were at risk of contracting Congo fever, but during the days before Eidul Azha, visits to cattle markets to buy sacrificial animals also rendered people vulnerable to the tick-borne viral disease.

The doctors said Congo fever virus was commonly transmitted by ticks and through contact with infected animals via blood.

They said last year, a Class-IV MTI employee died when coming into contact with an infected patient at work.

The doctors said bites by ticks caused the infection and that the virus could be transmitted from the infected person to the other(s) by contact with infectious blood or body fluids and patients require supportive medication, antiviral drugs and maintenance of fluids level in their bodies.

Meanwhile, health officials told Dawn that five CCHF cases were confirmed by the Public Health Reference Lab at the Khyber Medical University.

They said the health department had asked the relevant officials in all districts of the province to send specimens from suspected cases to the public health lab.

Officials said the health department had warned the people before Eidul Azha to avoid contact with animals at cattle markets and during Eid days but such warnings had fallen on deaf ears.

They said most patients couldn’t afford Congo fever PCR tests at the labs of the Aga Khan University and Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, as the test charges were over Rs15,000 and therefore, those tests were done at the KMU free of charge.

The officials said the department had already issued a circular asking all hospitals in the province to dispatch specimens from suspected cases to the KMU for Congo fever PCR tests.

They said Congo fever was one of the 40 diseases in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, while the hospitals should test patients with Congo-like symptoms.

The officials said the health department was also sending personal protective equipment to safeguard staff against the infection.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2023

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