Fatal nose bleed fever strikes Iraq as cases increase

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Health workers target bloodsucking ticks at the heart of the most severe fever epidemic found in Iraq, which causes fatal hemorrhage.

The sight of health care workers, dressed in complete protection kits has become common in the Iraqi countryside, while Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever spreads from animals to humans.

This year, Iraq reported 19 deaths out of 111 cases of CCSO in humans, according to the World Health Organization.

The virus has no vaccine and its onset can be rapid, causing severe internal and external bleeding and in particular from the nose.

It is known to cause death in two-fifths of the cases.

“The number of registered cases is unprecedented,” said Haidar Hantouche, a health official in Dhi Qar province. Southern Iraq’s poor agricultural region, the province accounts for almost half of the Iraqi cases.

In earlier years, cases could be counted “on the fingers of one hand”, he added.

Tick-borne hosts of the virus include wild and cultured animals such as buffaloes, cattle, goats, and sheep, all of which are common to Dhi Qar.

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In the village of Al-Buhari, a team disinfects animals in a barn beside a house where a woman was infected.

Wearing masks, glasses, and overalls, workers spray pesticides on a cow and her calves.

A worker shows ticks that dropped from the cow and were gathered into a container. ‘

Animals become infected by infected ticks,’ according to the World Health Organization.

“HVDC virus is transmitted to people through tick bites or contact with infected animal blood or tissue during and immediately after slaughter,” it added.

The influx of cases this year shocked the authorities, as the number of cases far surpasses the cases recorded in the 43 years since the virus was first documented in Iraq in 1979.

In his province, only 16 cases leading to seven deaths were reported in 2021, according to Hantouche. But this year, Dhi Qar registered 43 cases, eight of the deaths.

The figures are still very low compared to the COVID-19 pandemic —where Iraq has more than 25,200 deaths and 2.3 million cases, according to WHO numbers, but health workers are concerned.

Endemic in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Balkans, the death rate of CCHF is between 10 and 40 percent, according to the WHO.

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