Deadly nose-bleed fever shocks Iraq as cases surge

  • The virus has no vaccine and onset can be swift, causing severe bleeding both internally and externally and especially from the nose. It causes death in as many as two-fifths of cases, according to medics.
File photo of a patient in Intensive Care Unit.(AFP - image for representation only)
File photo of a patient in Intensive Care Unit.(AFP - image for representation only)
Published on May 29, 2022 10:26 AM IST
Copy Link

Spraying a cow with pesticides, health workers target blood-sucking ticks at the heart of Iraq's worst detected outbreak of a fever that causes people to bleed to death.

The sight of the health workers, dressed in full protective kit, is one that has become common in the Iraqi countryside, as the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever spreads, jumping from animals to humans.

This year Iraq has recorded 19 deaths among 111 CCHF cases in humans, according to the Word Health Organization.

The virus has no vaccine and onset can be swift, causing severe bleeding both internally and externally and especially from the nose. It causes death in as many as two-fifths of cases, according to medics.

"The number of cases recorded is unprecedented," said Haidar Hantouche, a health official in Dhi Qar province.

A poor farming region in southern Iraq, the province accounts for nearly half of Iraq's cases.

In previous years, cases could be counted "on the fingers of one hand", he added.

Transmitted by ticks, hosts of the virus include both wild and farmed animals such as buffalo, cattle, goats and sheep, all of which are common in Dhi Qar.

- Tick bites -

In the village of Al-Bujari, a team disinfects animals in a stable next to a house where a woman was infected. Wearing masks, goggles and overalls, the workers spray a cow and her two calves with pesticides.

A worker displays ticks that have fallen from the cow and been gathered into a container.

"Animals become infected by the bite of infected ticks," according to the World Health Organization.

"The CCHF virus is transmitted to people either by tick bites or through contact with infected animal blood or tissues during and immediately after slaughter," it adds.

The surge of cases this year has shocked officials, since numbers far exceed recorded cases in the 43 years since the virus was first documented in Iraq in 1979.

In his province, only 16 cases resulting in seven deaths had been recorded in 2021, Hantouche said. But this year Dhi Qar has recorded 43 cases, including eight deaths.

The numbers are still tiny compared with the Covid-19 pandemic -- where Iraq has registered over 25,200 deaths and 2.3 million recorded cases, according to WHO figures -- but health workers are worried.

Endemic in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans, CCHF's fatality rate is between 10 and 40 percent, the WHO says.

The WHO's representative in Iraq, Ahmed Zouiten, said there were several "hypotheses" for the country's outbreak.

They included the spread of ticks in the absence of livestock spraying campaigns during Covid in 2020 and 2021.

And "very cautiously, we attribute part of this outbreak to global warming, which has lengthened the period of multiplication of ticks," he said.

But "mortality seems to be declining", he added, as Iraq had mounted a spraying campaign while new hospital treatments had shown "good results".

- Slaughterhouses under scrutiny -

Since the virus is "primarily transmitted" to people via ticks on livestock, most cases are among farmers, slaughterhouse workers and veterinarians, the WHO says.

"Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected persons," it adds.

Alongside uncontrolled bleeding, the virus causes intense fever and vomiting.

Medics fear there may be an explosion of cases following the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in July, when families traditionally slaughter an animal to feed guests.

"With the increase in the slaughter of animals, and more contact with meat, there are fears of an increase in cases during Eid," said Azhar al-Assadi, a doctor specialising in haematological diseases in a hospital in Nasiriya.

Most of those infected were "around 33 years old", he said, although their age ranges from 12 to 75.

Authorities have put in place disinfection campaigns and are cracking down on abattoirs that do not follow hygiene protocols. Several provinces have also banned livestock movement across their borders.

Near Najaf, a city in the south, slaughterhouses are monitored by the authorities.

The virus has adversely hit meat consumption, according to workers and officials there.

"I used to slaughter 15 or 16 animals a day -- now it is more like seven or eight," said butcher Hamid Mohsen.

Fares Mansour, director of Najaf Veterinary Hospital, which oversees the abattoirs, meanwhile noted that the number of cattle arriving for slaughter had fallen to around half normal levels.

"People are afraid of red meat and think it can transmit infection," he said.


Close Story

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • Professor Ajay Agrawal, who was honoured with the Order of Canada in the 2022 list. (Credit: University of Toronto)

    Two Indo-Canadian academics honoured with Order of Canada

    Two Indo-Canadian academics, working on research to advance the betterment of mankind, have been honoured with one of the country's most prestigious awards, the Order of Canada. Their names were in the list published by the office of the governor-general of Canada Mary Simon. Both have been invested (as the bestowal of the awards is described) into the Order as a Member. They are professors Ajay Agrawal and Parminder Raina.

  • SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk.

    Elon Musk's Twitter hiatus, in 2nd week now,  generates curiosity 

    The world's richest person, Elon Musk, has not tweeted in about 10 days and it can't go unnoticed. The 51-year-old business tycoon has 100 million followers on the microblogging site, which he is planning to buy. Since April, he has been making headlines for the $44 billion deal and his comments and concerns about the presence of a large number of fake accounts on Twitter.

  • A Taliban fighter stands guard at a news conference about a new command of hijab by Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

    Taliban's reclusive supreme leader attends gathering in Kabul: Report

    The Taliban's reclusive supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada joined a large gathering of nationwide religious leaders in Kabul on Friday, the state news agency said, adding he would give a speech. The Taliban's state-run Bakhtar News Agency confirmed the reclusive leader, who is based in the southern city of Kandahar, was attending the meeting of more than 3,000 male participants from around the country, aimed at discussing issues of national unity.

  • James Topp, a Canadian Forces veteran who marched across Canada protesting against the Covid-19 vaccines mandates, speaks to supporters as he arrives at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial ahead of Canada Day in Ottawa, Ontario, on Thursday. (REUTERS)

    July 1: Canada to mark 155th anniversary of its formation

    As the country prepares to celebrate the 155th anniversary of the formation of the Canadian Confederation, Canada Day, the traditional centre of festivities, Parliament Hill in Ottawa, will be off limits as protesters linked to the Freedom Convoy begin gathering in the capital for the long weekend. Various events have been listed by protesters including a march to Parliament Hill on Friday.

  • This image of a "Most Wanted" poster obtained from the FBI on June 30, 2022, shows Ruja Ignatova. - Ignatova, dubbed the "Crypto Queen." after she raised billions of dollars in a fraudulent virtual currency scheme was placed on the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives list June 30, 2022. (Photo by Handout / FBI / AFP) / 

    Bulgaria's ‘Crypto Queen’ Ruja Ignatova added to FBI's most-wanted list

    A Bulgarian woman dubbed the "Crypto Queen" afteIgnatovahe raised billions of dollars in a fraudulent virtual currency scheme was placed on the FBI's 10 most wanted list Thursday. The Federal Bureau of Investigation put up a $100,000 reward for Ruja Ignatova, who disappeared in Greece in October 2017 around the time US authorities filed a sealed indictment and warrant for her arrest.

Story Saved
Saved Articles
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Saturday, July 02, 2022