More than 50 cases and 12 deaths from haemorrhagic fever have been recorded in Iraq since the beginning of this year, causing a state of anxiety in popular circles despite government assurances.
Most cases and deaths have occurred in the southern province of Dhi Qar, with fewer cases in Erbil, Kirkuk, Baghdad, Najaf and Nineveh, according to Iraq’s Health Ministry, which said those most at risk from contracting the disease are herders and butchers.
The disease, also known as “Congo fever”, is considered one of the endemic diseases in Iraq, as the first case was diagnosed in the country in 1979, and since then infections have been recorded. in a number of Iraqi governorates. at controlled rates, according to the Iraqi Health Authority.
The disease is a common disease between humans and infected animals. It is transmitted by an infected person or by a tick as a vector. It is not transmitted through the consumption of well-cooked meat.
In 2018, the Iraqi Ministry of Health recorded 64 suspected cases, seven confirmed cases and five deaths.
Signs and symptoms of viral hemorrhagic fevers vary by disease. In general, the first signs and symptoms may include fever, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, muscle, bone or joint pain, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea.
Symptoms that can be life threatening include bleeding under the skin, internal organs, mouth, eyes or ears, nervous system problems, coma, delirium, kidney failure, breathing problems and liver cirrhosis.
Viral hemorrhagic fevers are spread through contact with infected animals or insects. The viruses that cause viral hemorrhagic fevers live in a variety of animal and insect hosts.
The most common hosts are mosquitoes, ticks, rodents, or bats, and some types of viral hemorrhagic fevers can also be passed from person to person.
Some types of viral hemorrhagic fevers are spread by mosquito or tick bites, and others are spread by contact with infected body fluids, such as blood, saliva, or semen, and can also be transmitted by inhaling the feces or urine of infected animals, or during slaughter and eating their undercooked meat.
Saad Badday, a professor at the University of Baghdad’s College of Medicine, said “the nature of the disease is not spreading in the form of a pandemic like Corona, but rather through direct contact only.”
Badday added, in an interview with the Al-Hurra website, that “the most common way of spreading in Iraq is through contact with meat carrying the virus, which is transmitted to animals by ticks.”
Badai continues: “When a person slaughters cattle, the virus is transmitted to him if he does not comply with the sanitary and preventive conditions, because the virus enters the body, then the blood vessels, then the vessels begin to rupture. , then bleeding occurs.”
Bedday spoke of the first case discovered in Iraq in 1979, when he said it was a patient who entered the hospital from a rural area and the symptoms were strange at the time.
It shows: “The patient suffered from bleeding from the nose and mouth, and she died without knowing the cause, after which the resident doctor who supervised her treatment and the nurse who was in contact with her died.”
“At this time, a government crisis unit was formed and samples from the deceased were sent to the UK and to epidemiologists, so that the cases could be identified as Crimean or Congo virus (haemorrhagic fever)” , according to Bedday.
The Iraqi doctor confirms that the country subsequently experienced “isolated cases from time to time and the disease has not disappeared definitively”, adding that “the disease could spread if there were injuries to animals at large scale”.
Iraqi authorities confirm that they have taken measures to limit the spread of this viral disease, which is transmitted by livestock, such as cows, sheep, goats and buffaloes.
In recent days, the authorities have imposed strict measures to prevent the phenomenon of indiscriminate slaughter, which often spreads in working-class neighborhoods, in addition to preventing the transfer of livestock from one area to another, and have carried out animal disinfection campaigns.
Secretary of the government’s media cell, Haider Majid, said “haemorrhagic fever is keeping Iraqis busy right now, but there is media bullying about the number of injured people.”
Majeed added, in televised statements, that “the Iraqi government has taken joint measures to deal with the disease, which are being taken by the authorities through the ministries of health and agriculture.”
On the other hand, Health Ministry spokesman Saif Al-Badr told a press conference on Tuesday that “the total number of confirmed cases is 55, including 12 deaths, and half of the injured have made a full recovery after receiving the necessary treatment.”
Al-Badr added that the Iraqi authorities “have the capacity to detect the first cases, provide them with care and take the necessary measures to prevent new cases by completely isolating infected patients”.
“There is no vaccine or effective treatment to tackle the disease, but there is a possibility of averting deaths in the early stages of the disease which are associated with fever, body aches and colic, especially in the most vulnerable people who are herders,” according to Al-Badr.
Al-Badr points out that “if the patient reaches the second stage, which is the most dangerous, and starts bleeding under the skin or body openings, then the problem will be difficult and the possibility of complications and death will increase.”
Saad Bedday, professor of medicine at the University of Baghdad, explains that “the mortality rate in this disease is very high, reaching 40%”.
He added: “The important thing is that there is early diagnosis and treatment of cases, replacing the patient with blood, plasma, fluids and antivirals, and this can reduce the death rate to 10 or 15%.
Experts recommend that sanitary conditions be respected, especially by farmers, by wearing gloves and protective glasses, following sanitary instructions, cooking meat properly, using a special knife to cut meat and avoiding the indiscriminate slaughter of cattle.
It is also advisable to take care of personal hygiene and to wash your hands thoroughly after touching meat.
Bedday believes that “disease control requires, as a first step, neutering animals to kill ticks that transmit the virus, as well as monitoring meat sources and conducting an awareness campaign on how to handle and cook the meat well”.