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Foreign Office warning as virus that kills third of patients found in Europe

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British holidaymakers have been warned to be on high alert after a severe illness, which kills around a third of people infected, has been detected in Spain. The Foreign Office-backed Travel Health Pro website urged travellers to watch out for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF).

The disease is transmitted by bites from infected ticks or by direct contact with blood or tissues of infected ticks, people and livestock.

Symptoms come on suddenly and often include fever, muscle ache, dizziness, neck pain, backache, headache, sore eyes and sensitivity to light.

It can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and in more severe cases, rapid kidney deterioration and even sudden liver failure.

According to the Spanish Castile and León Ministry of Health, the affected patient is in hospital in a serious but stable condition.

It said: “The patient remains admitted, stable in serious condition, at the Salamanca Hospital, where the protocolized epidemiological and care measures have been adopted.

“The confirmed case is an elderly man who is admitted to the Salamanca Hospital with a clinical picture compatible with CCHF.

“He has a tick bite and remains stable, although with the clinical severity that this pathology implies, with the isolation measures and protection of health professionals provided for these situations.”

The Spanish health authority issued advice on how to take action to prevent catching CCHF.

It said: “Regarding the prevention of bites by these insects, health authorities remind us of the importance of wearing appropriate clothing and footwear during outings in the countryside, as well as walking along paths and using repellents for both people and pets.

“Likewise, it must be insisted that any ticks that may have attached must be removed as soon as possible and appropriately, preferably by health professionals.”

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever was identified in the Crimea (known then as Crimean fever) in 1944 and in the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1956.

CCHF virus was first reported in Spain in ticks in 2010. Since then the Spanish Ministry of Health reported 12 human cases and four deaths in Spain between 2013 and August 2022.

Travel Health Pro explained more: “The virus exists in nature in domestic and wild animals including horses, donkeys, goats, cattle, sheep, and pigs.

“The virus is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick, or by direct contact with infected animal/human bodily fluids.

“Exposure to the virus is also possible from contact with blood from crushing an infected tick.

“Camping and hiking are risk factors for exposure to tick bites. The incubation period is between one and 13 days.”

It warned that the illness is fatal in almost a third of cases: “Case fatality rate is approximately 30 percent.”

According to the World Health Organisation, symptoms of CCHF include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle ache
  • Dizziness
  • Neck pain
  • Backache
  • Headache
  • Sore eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sore throat
  • Sharp mood swings and confusion
  • Sleepiness, depression and lassitude
  • Fast heart rate
  • Enlarged lymph nodes.

Travel Health Pro added: “Seek advice from your GP or NHS 111 if you think you, or anyone in your family has symptoms and may have been exposed to CCHF.

“Remember – tell your healthcare provider that you travelled abroad.”

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