At least 32 dead in Iraq as Congo fever continues to spread

Infections are rising because of inadequate oversight of livestock breeding and slaughter

Iraq has launched campaigns to spray animals and raise public awareness on how to reduce the risk of infection with the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever. EPA
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A tick-borne virus has killed at least 32 people in the past few months across Iraq, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Confirmed cases of the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever have reached 171 since the beginning of this year, ministry spokesman Saif Al Badr said.

Infections have been recorded in 15 of the country's 18 provinces.

The worst-hit is Dhi Qar, about 350 kilometres south of Baghdad, with 66 confirmed cases and 17 deaths, Mr Al Badr said.

It is followed by the nearby Maysan province with 22 confirmed cases and Wasit provinces with 18 others.

An Iraqi veterinary worker sprays buffalo with insecticide in Taji town, northern Baghdad. The Congo fever is tick-borne and can cause death in humans. EPA

The virus has been endemic in Iraq since the 1970s. The country normally records up to 20 cases a year, of which one or two result in death.

Iraqi health authorities have cited the lack of adequate oversight of livestock breeding and slaughter for the unprecedented levels of infections among people.

Since the outbreak, Iraqi authorities have scrambled to combat the disease, launching campaigns to spray animals and raise public awareness on how to reduce the risk of infection.

Late last month, the government allocated 1 billion Iraqi dinars (about $700,000) to combat the disease mainly to purchase pesticides, said the spokesman of Agriculture Ministry Hamid Al Nayef.

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever was first documented there in 1979 and historically there have been only a handful of cases each year.

The tick-borne virus has a fatality rate of up to 30 per cent. It can also be transmitted among humans as a result of contact with the blood, organs, secretions or other bodily fluids of infected people.

It is endemic to Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans. No vaccine is available for people or animals.

Meanwhile, coronavirus infections increased slightly in recent days after dropping significantly to about 100 a day in recent months.

On Tuesday, the country registered 344 new cases and one death, taking the total number of confirmed infections to 2,33 million and fatalities to 25,224.

“The problem of coronavirus is not over yet,” Mr Al Badr told state-run TV later on Tuesday. “There are still concerns of seeing new waves of the pandemic or new variants even in Iraq” he added.

Updated: June 15, 2022, 1:00 PM