Congo fever fears rise

09 May 2019 | Health

The Ontananga area in the Oshikoto Region is under surveillance after one patient tested positive for the highly contagious Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) and another died.

Health officials in the Oshikoto Region are yet to confirm if the man who died at the Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital and was buried on Tuesday afternoon had Congo fever.

The man, who is suspected to be from Ontananga, was given an undignified burial, thrown into his grave by a front-end loader at the Onandjokwe old cemetery. He was buried immediately after his death.

The acting health director for Oshikoto, Dr Helena Nkandi-Shiimi, told Namibian Sun that the 78-year-old man died upon arrival at the hospital and was suspected to have died of Congo fever.

His death came a day after the ministry of health had announced a confirmed Congo fever case at the same hospital.

The patient is a woman who was admitted on 26 April.

“The person admitted with Congo fever on 26 April at Onandjokwe hospital is stable and improving. She is 54 and is in an isolation room. The person who passed away Tuesday was a 78-year-old man who is a suspected but not yet confirmed case and can therefore not be said to have died of CCHF until the results are out,” said Nkandi-Shiimi.





The health ministry said that it will take up to three days to get test results from the National Institute Communicable Diseases Regional Reference Laboratory in South Africa.

Congo fever is a viral zoonotic (animal to human) disease caused by infection with a tick-borne virus. The hosts of the ticks who carry the virus are mostly wild and domestic animals including cattle, sheep and goats. These animals become infected after being bitten by infected ticks and the virus remains in their bloodstream for about two weeks after infection, allowing the tick-animal-tick cycle to continue when another tick bites the animal.

Human transmission can occur when someone is bitten by an infected tick or comes into direct contact with the blood or tissue of an infected animal or person. Congo fever can be transmitted from one infected human to another by contact with infected blood or body fluids. In humans, Congo fever can present with several symptoms including sudden onset of high-grade fever, muscle aches, neck pains, neck stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and sometimes bleeding from body cavities.

On Monday, the executive director in the health ministry, Ben Nangombe, announced that a 54-year-old woman from Ontananga village tested positive for Congo fever.

The regional health emergency management committee was activated on 26 April, while preliminary environmental assessments are under way in the affected areas. Remedial measures for an outbreak are also being put into place.

The last outbreak of the disease was in February 2017 when a farmworker from the Omaheke Region died in the Gobabis State Hospital. At the time, the health ministry reported that a nurse treated a patient with Congo fever. The owner of Harnas Wildlife Foundation east of Gobabis, Nick van der Merwe, died of Congo fever in 2001, also after working his cattle and being bitten by a tick.

This new confirmed case is the fifth case reported in Namibia in 16 years.

ILENI NANDJATO