Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever

Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is a severe tick-borne illness that causes a number of severe symptoms and may result in death – up to 40 per cent of infected people die. It is caused by infection with the CCHF virus and affects people in the range of the Hyalomma tick, which is throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia and southern and eastern Europe. 

If you get infected, the onset of symptoms is sudden and can include the following: fever, muscle pain, dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and photophobia (sensitivity to light). There may also be nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal (tummy) pain and sore throat. You may experience unpredictable mood swings and confusion, followed by sleepiness and depression. 

The tummy pain may be limited to the upper right part of your belly, which is where the liver is – the liver gets enlarged is it fights the infection and this causes pain. This usually leads to hepatitis and may result in liver failure. There’s also the danger of kidney damage and pulmonary failure – the inability to breathe enough to supply enough oxygen to the whole body.

One of the CCHF symptoms is also a petechial rash – it’s a rash caused by bleeding into the skin – and it shows mainly inside the mouth and throat and on the skin. It may look like small pink, red or purple spots or it may look like large bruises.

CCHFV infects many animal species but only people develop a severe illness. Domesticated animals, such as cattle, sheep and goats can be infected by a tick bite and the virus remains in their blood for about a week after infection. If the animal is bitten by another tick within that time, that tick then carries the infection to another animal and so the cycle continues.

People are usually infected with CCHFV through tick bites or by handling and butchering infected animals. The latter happens by contact with infected blood or tissues during and immediately after slaughter. 

In some places, ostriches are often infected and may infect people. There was a large outbreak of CCHF at an ostrich abattoir in South Africa. Animals don’t have any symptoms of the infection, so it’s impossible to tell if they’re infected.

You can catch the virus from an infected person if you come into contact with their blood or bodily secretions, such as saliva or urine.  

Because there are no licensed vaccines or specific treatments for CCHF, only general supportive care to relieve the main symptoms is usually offered. It’s best to prevent CCHFV infection by using a tick repellent and, of course, by not killing animals (that may or may not carry the virus). A varied vegan diet helps to protect your health but as CCHF is a serious, life-threatening illness, the risk of contracting it should not be taken lightly.