Afghanistan: Ticks with CCHF Virus?

Sara Carter of The Washington Times has an exclusive on a rare virus found in Afghanistan (Rare virus poses new threat to troops | Nov 6, 2009):

“U.S. military officials sent a medical team to a remote outpost in southern Afghanistan this week to take blood samples from members of an Army unit after a soldier in the unit died from an Ebola-like virus.”

The report says that Sgt. Robert David Gordon, 22, from River Falls, Ala., died Sept. 16 from what turned out to be Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever after he was bitten by a tick. Read the whole thing here.

According to the CDC, the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is caused by infection with a tick-borne virus (Nairovirus) in the family Bunyaviridae. The disease was first characterized in the Crimea in 1944 and given the name Crimean hemorrhagic fever. It was then later recognized in 1969 as the cause of illness in the Congo, thus resulting in the current name of the disease.

Symptoms according to the CDC factsheet:

The onset of CCHF is sudden, with initial signs and symptoms including headache, high fever, back pain, joint pain, stomach pain, and vomiting. Red eyes, a flushed face, a red throat, and petechiae (red spots) on the palate are common. Symptoms may also include jaundice, and in severe cases, changes in mood and sensory perception. As the illness progresses, large areas of severe bruising, severe nosebleeds, and uncontrolled bleeding at injection sites can be seen, beginning on about the fourth day of illness and lasting for about two weeks.

The CDC also says:

  • There is no safe and effective vaccine widely available for human use.
  • Fatality rates in hospitalized patients have ranged from 9% to as high as 50%.
  • Insect repellants containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) are the most effective in warding off ticks.

The WHO info on CCHF indicates that the length of the incubation period for the illness appears to depend on the mode of acquisition of the virus. Following infection via tick bite, the incubation period is usually one to three days, with a maximum of nine days. The incubation period following contact with infected blood or tissues is usually five to six days, with a documented maximum of 13 days.

This is actually not the first time that CCHF was found in Afghanistan. According to the Federation of American Scientists, 41 deaths
from “a form of hemorrhagic fever”were reported in eastern Afghanistan in 2002. In August 2008, the WHO reported a total of 19 CCHF cases with 5 deaths in the Herat region. Click here for info on previous CCHF outbreaks in the area from the International Society for Infectious Disease.

If you’re heading out that way, don’t forget to pack some DEET insect repellants.

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