Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is a widespread disease caused by a tick-borne virus. The CCHF virus causes severe viral haemorrhagic fever outbreaks, with 10–40% of the patients dying.
The hosts of the CCHF virus include a wide range of wild and domestic animals such as cattle, sheep and goats.
Animals become infected by the bite of infected ticks and the virus remains in their bloodstream for about one week after infection, allowing the tick-animal-tick cycle to continue when another tick bites.
The CCHF virus is transmitted to people either by tick bites or through contact with infected animal blood or tissues during and immediately after slaughter. The majority of cases have occurred in people involved in the livestock industry, such as agricultural workers, slaughterhouse workers and veterinarians.
Human-to-human transmission can occur resulting from close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected persons. Hospital-acquired infections can also occur due to improper sterilization of medical equipment, reuse of needles and contamination of medical supplies.
Following infection by a 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.
Onset of symptoms is sudden, with fever, muscle ache, dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and sensitivity to light. There may be nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and sore throat early on, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion. After two to four days, the agitation may be replaced by sleepiness, depression and lassitude, and the abdominal pain may localize to the upper right quadrant, with detectable liver enlargement.
Other clinical signs include fast heart rate, enlarged lymph nodes, and a rash caused by bleeding into the skin on internal mucosal surfaces, such as in the mouth and throat, and on the skin. The small rashes may give way to larger rashes. There is usually evidence of hepatitis, and severely ill patients may experience rapid kidney deterioration, sudden liver failure or pulmonary failure after the fifth day of illness.
The mortality rate from CCHF is approximately 30%, with death occurring in the second week of illness. In patients who recover, improvement generally begins on the ninth or tenth day after the onset of illness.
CCHF virus infection can be diagnosed by several different laboratory tests:
Patients with fatal disease, as well as in patients in the first few days of illness, do not usually develop a measurable antibody response and so diagnosis in these individuals is achieved by virus or RNA detection in blood or tissue samples.
Tests on patient samples present an extreme biohazard risk and should only be conducted under maximum biological containment conditions.
General supportive care with treatment of symptoms is the main approach to managing CCHF in people.
The antiviral drug ribavirin has been used to treat CCHF infection with apparent benefit. Both oral and intravenous formulations seem to be effective.
It is difficult to prevent or control CCHF infection in animals and ticks as the tick-animal-tick cycle usually goes unnoticed and the infection in domestic animals is usually not apparent.
There is currently no safe and effective vaccine widely available for human use.
In the absence of a vaccine, the only way to reduce infection in people is by raising awareness of the risk factors and educating people about the measures they can take to reduce exposure to the virus.
Public health advice should focus on several aspects.
Health-care workers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed CCHF, or handling specimens from them, should implement standard infection control precautions. These include basic hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment, safe injection practices and safe burial practices.
As a precautionary measure, health-care workers caring for patients immediately outside the CCHF outbreak area should also implement standard infection control precautions.
Samples taken from people with suspected CCHF should be handled by trained staff working in suitably equipped laboratories.
Recommendations for infection control while providing care to patients with suspected or confirmed Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever should follow those developed by WHO for Ebola and Marburg haemorrhagic fever.