At least five people have fallen prey to the deadly Congo-Crimean Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) in Karachi this year alone, but visits to several cattle markets in the city ahead of Eidul Azha have shown that most people are either unaware of this fatal danger or they simply shrug it off.
CCHF is caused by a tick-borne virus (Nairovirus) of the Bunyaviridae family with a high fatality rate. Ticks, especially of the Hyalommagenus, are both reservoir and vector for the Congo virus. Numerous wild and domestic animals such as cattle, buffaloes, goats, and sheep are silent carriers of this virus and the adult ticks feed on them.
Interviews with sellers and buyers of sacrificial animals confirm that the Sindh health authorities’ efforts to create awareness of the dangers of the Congo fever in view of the approaching Eidul Azha festival have failed to yield the desired results.
Last month, the authorities had issued an alert in this regard and decided to set up medical camps and veterinary facilities in all cattle markets in or on the fringes of the city.
Officials of the health department had said that all relevant authorities had been directed to take preventive measures to save millions of people in the provincial capital from the deadly disease that had already killed over two dozen people in the past three years.
The risk to public health from the disease appears to be very high as trade in domestic animals being transported from rural to urban areas has gained momentum.
“Special attention is needed to educate people about the probablility of the Congo fever’s escalation. In-depth monitoring is needed to ensure that protective measures and preventive support are efficiently used and the objective of controlling and preventing the disease is achieved,” said Dr Saeed Khan, molecular pathologist and associate professor of the Dow University of Health Sciences, on Thursday. Talking to The News, he said: “Anyone with sudden symptoms like fever, muscle-ache, dizziness, neck pain, stiffness, headache and/or sore eyes should consult a doctor without delay.”
Muhammad Ashfaque, who has been selling animals brought from Bahawalpur at a Defence cattle market, said: “I know a little about this rapidly spreading virus, but I am not aware of the protective measures. When I came to the market with my animals, there was no vet available for diagnostic facility, or to guide us about the safety measures that the cattle handlers and the visitors should follow to safeguard themselves.”
Dr Nazir Ahmed, molecular virologist and associate professor at Barrett Hodgson University (BHU), said: “Physical contact with the infected animal can transmit the infection from one individual to another individual within a 7-10 days’ period of ailment. Transmission can likewise happen by contact with infected animal blood. It is feared that the disease could spread much more quickly through cities than rural areas as all diagnosed and undiagnosed animals are gathered at the cattle markets and the visitor’s interaction with the animals without gloves, unawareness of infection control practices, amateur butchers and delayed disposal of blood and carcasses of sacrificed animals.”
Imran Muntazir, another cattle owner at the temporary market set up near Kalapul, was totally unaware of this fatal disease. He said, “I have been dealing with these animals since I was just seven years old and I am not only their caretaker but I also spend most of my time with them and I have never got any virus from them.”
When told about the life-threatening Congo virus, he said: “We belong to the interior of Sindh, where we don’t have the basic facilities of life, but here the relevant departments should do something to safeguard us and the visitors, so that the festival could be celebrated more safely without contaminating the environment.
“A little bit of awareness regarding the virus and about protective measures while we are nearby animals would help us in future also.”
Nizaam Shah, who was seen wearing a safety mask and gloves among hundreds of visitors at the market, said: “I am mindful of this virus as my mother, who is a doctor, told me about this deadly virus and I am trying to protect myself. I wait anxiously for Eidul Azha because of my love for animals and I couldn’t resist paying a visit to the cattle market, but with gloves and mask I am trying to protect myself from any possible chances of contracting various diseases from animals.”