Spraying a cow with pesticides, health workers spotted a blood-sucking tick at the epicenter of Iraq’s worst-reported fever outbreak, killing people in a bloodbath.
The sight of health workers wearing full protective kits has become commonplace in Iraqi countryside as Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever spreads, from animals to humans.
According to the World Health Organization, 19 out of 111 CCHF cases among people in Iraq have died this year.
The virus does not have a vaccine and its onset can be rapid, leading to severe internal and external bleeding, especially from the nose. According to doctors, it causes death in about two-fifths of cases.
“The number of registered cases is unprecedented,” said Haider Hantuche, a health official in Dhikar province.
A poor agricultural region in southern Iraq, the province accounts for about half of Iraq’s population.
In previous years, cases could be counted on “one finger”, he added.
Infected by ticks, the host of the virus includes both wild and farmed animals such as buffalo, cattle, goats and sheep, all of which are very common.
In the village of Al-Bujari, a team disinfected animals in a stable next to a house where a woman was infected. Workers wearing masks, goggles and overalls spray pesticides on a cow and her two calves.
A worker shows ticks that fall from a cow and gather in a container.
According to the World Health Organization, “animals are infected by the bite of infected ticks.”
“The CCHF virus is transmitted to humans through tick bites or during slaughter and immediately after contact with the blood or tissues of infected animals,” it added.
The rise in cases this year has shocked officials, with the number of cases recorded in the 43 years since the virus was first recorded in Iraq in 1979.
In his province, only 16 cases were recorded in 2021, resulting in seven deaths in 2021, Hantuche said. This year, however, Dhikar has recorded 43 cases, including eight deaths.
The numbers are still small compared to the Kovid-19 epidemic – with more than 25,200 deaths and 2.3 million recorded cases in Iraq, according to WHO figures – but health workers are concerned.
Localized in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans, CCHF mortality rates range from 10 to 40 percent, the WHO says.
Ahmed Wuiten, the WHO’s representative in Iraq, said there were several “estimates” for the country’s outbreak.
They included the spread of the tax in the absence of a campaign to spray cattle during the Covid in 2020 and 2021.
And “very carefully, we blame global warming in part for this outbreak, which has lengthened the multiplication period of taxes,” he said.
But “the death toll seems to be dropping,” he added, as Iraq launched a spray campaign while new hospital treatments showed “good results”.
The slaughterhouse is under investigation
Since the virus is “primarily transmitted” to humans through cattle ticks, most cases occur among farmers, butchers and veterinarians, the WHO says.
“Human-to-human transmission can occur as a result of close contact of infected people with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids,” it added.
In addition to uncontrolled bleeding, the virus causes high fever and vomiting.
Doctors fear the outbreak could occur after the Muslim Eid-ul-Adha festival in July, when families traditionally slaughtered an animal to feed guests.
Dr. Azhar al-Asadi, a hematological specialist at a hospital in Nasiriyah, said: “Due to the increase in animal slaughter and increased exposure to meat, there is a risk of an increase in cases during Eid.”
Most of those infected were “approximately 33 years old”, he said, although they ranged in age from 12 to 75.
Authorities have launched a sterilization campaign and are cracking down on cemeteries that do not follow hygiene protocols. Several provinces have banned the movement of cattle across their borders.
Near Najaf, a town in the south, the slaughterhouses are under surveillance.
According to staff and officials, the virus has adversely affected meat consumption.
Butcher Hamid Mohsen said, “I used to slaughter 15-16 animals a day – now it’s about seven or eight.”
Fares Mansour, director of Najaf Veterinary Hospital, which oversees the cemetery, has already noted that the number of cattle coming for slaughter has dropped to almost half normal.
“People are afraid of red meat and think it can spread the infection,” he said.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)