Congo fever: Only one confirmed case

16 May 2019 | Health

Only one patient, who is recovering, has so far tested positive for Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) in northern Namibia.

Two other suspected cases have tested negative, while two results are pending.

At a joint press conference hosted by the health and agriculture ministries yesterday, health minister Kalumbi Shangula said the patient who had tested positive for Congo fever was discharged from hospital on 11 May.

She is a 54-year-old woman from Onethika village, who was admitted to hospital on 21 April.

Samples taken from 77-year-old man from the same village, who died after showing similar symptoms, tested negative for the dreaded disease.

Test results are still pending for two patients, a 27-year-old man who was discharged from hospital on 11 May and a 57-year-old woman.

A 40-year-old man's preliminary results were negative, while a 50-year-old man tested negative.

As part of the two ministries' joint response to the outbreak, pesticides were sent to the affected area yesterday with the aim of treating nearly 3 800 head of livestock against ticks.

The agriculture ministry's Dr Albertina Shilongo stressed that Congo fever is spread by ticks. Although host animals do not get ill, they play a significant role in the life cycle of a tick and therefore in the spread of the infectious disease.

“That is why it's very important for us to spread the message to inform farmers to control ticks by applying acaricides [tick poison] on the body of the animals, so that the ticks die,” she said.

Dr Eric Dziuban, country director of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Namibia, emphasised that although Congo fever is an extremely serious illness, “there is no cause for alarm for the general population here in Namibia.”

He said this is because the mode of transmission is very specific, namely through a tick bite or through contact with the body fluids or tissues of infected animals or people.

“It does not spread in communities the same way that Ebola does. And we don't see the large outbreaks from the disease like Ebola. This is not Ebola,” he emphasised.

Dziuban said CCHF is a serious disease nevertheless and the risk of death can range from 9% to 50% of infected people. “Most people do recover and survive,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Namibia, Dr Charles Sagoe-Moses, said prevention and early detection are key to control the outbreak.

He said protection from tick bites is a crucial first step in halting the outbreak because it accounts for 70% of cases.

He said the early reporting of the first case, the woman in late April, helped to save her life and urged Namibians showing symptoms to immediately seek medical help.

Shangula said signs and symptoms of CCHF include fever, muscle pain, nausea, headache, abdominal pain and diarrhoea which can at times be bloody. Confusion and bleeding are also symptoms.

He warned that the most vulnerable people are those working closely with livestock, such as animal herders, livestock handlers, veterinarians and slaughterhouse workers, and public health workers caring for patients.

Apart from tick-control measures, the ministry is urging at-risk communities to wear protective clothing, such as gloves, long sleeves and trousers, when handling animals.

Moreover, the ministry recommends wearing light-coloured clothing, on which ticks can easily be spotted, and applying insect repellent when working in high-risk areas.

Close contact should be avoided with anyone who displays symptoms of CCHF.

Upon returning from areas where ticks are present, people should inspect their bodies and their clothing for ticks.

When removing a tick it is important to remove it in one piece and not to damage the body of the tick, as this increases the risk of infection.


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