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Health Authorities on High Alert as Congo Virus Threat Looms Over Eidul Azha Cattle Markets

As Eidul Azha approaches, the fervor in purchasing sacrificial animals is escalating nationwide, with millions of livestock flooding both established and makeshift markets in towns big and small. However, amidst this bustling activity, health authorities remain vigilant to avert any potential outbreak of diseases, notably the dreaded Congo virus.

Crimean–Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), a viral ailment, typically spreads through tick bites or close contact with infected persons or animals’ bodily fluids. While CCHF cases are observed across a broad geographical range, including Africa, Russia, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Asia, small outbreaks are common in regions where the virus is endemic.

In Pakistan, the Congo virus rears its head annually during Eidul Azha. A doctor at a makeshift cattle market on Karachi’s outskirts remarked, “Amongst the multitude of animals, some may carry the Congo virus, facilitating its spread to healthy ones.” Symptoms of Congo virus infection include persistent fever, vomiting, and dizziness, the doctor cautioned, emphasizing precautions for market visitors.

Dr. Hizbullah Bhutto, Director General of Veterinary Livestock, Government of Sindh, stated that authorities have been on high alert since last November’s reported Congo virus cases. Vaccination and spraying campaigns are underway to shield animals from various diseases, he explained, highlighting the establishment of emergency vaccination points at six Karachi markets.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, Pakistan recorded 365 confirmed cases of Congo virus between 2014 and 2020, with a 25% mortality rate. In 2021, Balochistan reported 14 cases, resulting in six deaths, followed by four cases in the first five months of 2022 and seven more in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa later that year.

Renowned hematologist Dr. Saqib Ansari elaborated, “Congo virus targets platelet-forming cells in the bone marrow, causing a sharp drop in platelet count.” Dr. Bhutto revealed the use of seven different vaccines to prevent disease outbreaks, noting that while two vaccines for Congo virus treatment have been developed in Pakistan, none have yet received approval.

Health experts stress the importance of exercising utmost caution when visiting cattle markets for sacrificial animal purchases. They advise ensuring the animal’s health before purchase and wearing light-colored, full-sleeved clothing, socks, shoes, and face masks to minimize exposure to ticks, some of which may not be visible on dark clothing. Additionally, they discourage bringing children to the market.

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