How Dangerous is The Congo Fever Outbreak in Gujarat?

Just when Malaria and Dengue are running a riot through the monsoon-soaked nation, a new vector-borne disease has come to the fore: Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) commonly known as Congo Fever.

Last week the virus killed three persons all from Gujarat. A resident of resident of Zamdi-Borna village in Surendranagar district, Sukhiben Meniya (75) was admitted to the government-run Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Hospital in Ahmedabad on 20 August for suspected Congo fever symptoms; she breathed her last on the night of 22 August.

Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV) confirmed that Meniya was infected Congo fever.

Similarly, two other women, one from Surendranagar district and one from Bhavnagar district also succumbed to the virus on 24 August. The virus spreads through ticks in humans.

The state’s health department has stated that since 20 August, 58 blood samples were sent to NIV for testing of which, eight are positive. Of these eight, three have already died. The infected patients are being treated across different hospitals in the state.

"“A total of three women have died due to Congo fever, which spreads through ticks in humans. Three new cases were also reported till now. Among the three, a woman is currently undergoing treatment at civil hospital in Ahmedabad while two male patients are admitted to SVP hospital,” Deputy" - Nitin Patel, Deputy Chief Minister 

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Haylomma Tick carries the virus and spreads it to livestock and humans
Haylomma Tick carries the virus and spreads it to livestock and humans

What is the Congo Fever Virus?

Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) Virus, is a vector-borne disease that spreads through the Haylomma Tick in both livestock animals and humans, and is common in regions such as the Middle East, South Asia, the Balkans and Africa. The virus can also spread from human to human through exchange of bodily fluids.

The first ever viral outbreak was reported in Crimea in 1944 and later in 1969 similar symptoms were seen in Congo Africa. This gave the disease its name. Those who work with livestock, animal husbandry and are employed in slaughterhouses are susceptible to infection. People who travel to countries endemic to CCHF are also at risk of infection.

Symptoms and Cure

Symptoms include fever, muscle pains, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea, and bleeding into the skin. The virus attacks the liver resulting in its failure. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for the virus and treatment is based on supportive care.

According to the National Health Portal (NHP), CCHF outbreaks constitute a threat to public health services because of its epidemic potential (biological capacity of a pathogen to cause disease in a particular environment), its high case fatality ratio (10-40%), its potential for nosocomial (hospital acquired infection) outbreaks and the difficulties in its treatment and prevention.

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Is Gujarat a Hotbed for the Virus?

The first reported case in the country came from the state back in January 2011 killing three persons.

According to the NHP, between 2012 and 2015, several outbreaks and cases of CCHF transmitted by ticks via livestock and several nosocomial infections were reported in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Cases were documented from 6 districts of Gujarat (Ahmadabad, Amreli, Patan, Surendranagar, Kutch, and Aravalli) and 3 districts of Rajasthan (Sirohi, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer).

Gujarat Health Commissioner Jayanti Ravi said cattle-rearers are more susceptible to the CCHF virus infection. Special preventive measures are being taken by the health and veterinarian teams in Zamdi-Borna village in view of Meniya's death.

"“We have created an OPD in the village and kept 21 persons, who were in close contact with Meniya, under surveillance. Since the virus spreads into humans through ticks, our teams have sprayed anti-tick chemical in the village and also collected tick samples for examination,” " - Jayanti Ravi, Gujarat Health Commissioner

Outbreaks were also reported in Kerala in December 2018, after a person who was already diagnosed with CCHF was admitted to a hospital in Thrissur.

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