Woman in Cambridge is diagnosed with deadly ‘eye-bleeding fever’ after returning from Central Asia

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A case of the deadly Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) has been reported in a woman in England who recently returned from Central Asia.

The unidentified woman was diagnosed with the tick-borne illness at Cambridge University Hospitals and has been transferred to a specialist unit in London.

She will be only the third confirmed British case of CCHF, which can cause mood swings, confusion and bleeding in the eyes.

Health leaders insist the risk to public health is low as the disease is most commonly transmitted through tick bites not present in the UK and person-to-person spread is rare.

It’s not clear where the woman traveled to in Asia, but two previous confirmed cases were imported from Afghanistan and Bulgaria in 2012 and 2014 in the UK.

In those cases, no further transmission of the disease — which is fatal in up to 40 percent of patients — was detected.

dr. Susan Hopkins, chief medical officer at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said the risk to the public is ‘very low’.

The patient was diagnosed at the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and is receiving specialist care at the Royal Free Hospital in London (pictured)

The World Health Organization map shows the distribution of CCHF cases around the world by year.  Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan and parts of Russia register more than 50 cases per year.  Meanwhile, five to 49 are detected annually in parts of Europe (Bulgaria and Albania), Africa (South Africa, Sudan and Mauritania) and Asia (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Oman, China and Kazakhstan)

The World Health Organization map shows the distribution of CCHF cases around the world by year. Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan and parts of Russia register more than 50 cases per year. Meanwhile, five to 49 are detected annually in parts of Europe (Bulgaria and Albania), Africa (South Africa, Sudan and Mauritania) and Asia (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Oman, China and Kazakhstan)

Health leaders said the risk to public health is low as the disease is usually spread through tick bites which are not present in the UK and is not easily transmitted between people.  Shown: stock image of tick

Health leaders said the risk to public health is low as the disease is usually spread through tick bites which are not present in the UK and is not easily transmitted between people. Shown: stock image of tick

WHAT IS CRIMEAN CONGO HEMORRAGIC FEVER (CCHP)?

Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is a tick-borne viral disease.

It causes symptoms such as high fever, muscle aches, dizziness, abnormal sensitivity to light, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Later, sharp mood swings may occur and the patient may become confused and aggressive.

The CCHF virus is widespread and the virus has been found under ticks in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe and Southwestern Europe.

In Europe, cases of human infections have been reported from Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

A first case was diagnosed in Greece in June 2008 and Spain reported the first locally acquired case in August 2016.

Two cases were previously confirmed in the UK — one in 2012 and one in 2014 — which were imported from Afghanistan and Bulgaria.

A third case was discovered in March 2022 in a woman who had recently traveled to Central Asia.

Source: ECDC

The latest patient was diagnosed at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and is receiving specialist care at London’s Royal Free Hospital, which has a specialist unit for tropical diseases.

dr. Hopkins said: ‘It is important to know that hemorrhagic fever in the Crimean Congo is commonly spread by tick bites in countries where the disease is endemic, it does not spread easily between people and the overall risk to the public is very low.

“We are working with NHS EI to contact those who have been in close contact with the case prior to confirming their infection, to assess them and provide advice as needed.

“UKHSA and the NHS have established and robust infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious diseases and these will be strictly followed.”

People can also become infected after contact with blood or tissue from infected livestock.

It can spread between people through bodily fluids or among hospital patients if medical equipment is not properly sterilized.

The WHO warns that CCHP outbreaks are a “threat to public health services” and “may result in outbreaks in hospitals and health facilities.”

Symptoms of the virus come on suddenly and include fever, muscle aches, dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, back pain, headache, sore eyes and sensitivity to light.

People may also experience early nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and sore throat, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion.

Other symptoms include a rash in the mouth and throat, rapid heartbeat, and enlarged lymph nodes.

dr. Sir Michael Jacobs, infectious diseases adviser at the Royal Free London, said: ‘The Royal Free Hospital is a specialist center for the treatment of patients with viral infections such as Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever.

“Our high-level isolation unit is run by an expert team of doctors, nurses, therapists and laboratory personnel and is designed to ensure that we can safely treat patients with these types of infections.”

Hyalomma ticks are the main carrier of Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever. This type of tick has not been identified in the UK and the virus has never been detected in the UK.

Officials advise anyone visiting areas where the ticks are found — including Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and Asia — to use tick repellents and carefully check their clothing and skin for the insects.

The disease was first discovered in Crimea in 1944 and was given the name Crimean hemorrhagic fever.

But in 1969, doctors realized that the pathogen that caused this disease was responsible for a disease identified in Congo in 1956.

This led to the virus being called Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, to encompass both locations.

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