A case of the deadly Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) has been spotted in a woman in England who recently returned from Central Asia.
The unidentified woman was diagnosed with the tickborne disease at Cambridge University Hospitals and has been moved to a specialist unit in London.
She becomes only the third confirmed British case of CCHF, which can cause mood swings, confusion and bleeding in the eyes.
Health chiefs insist the risk to public health is low, as the disease usually transmits through bites from ticks not present in the UK and person to person spread is rare.
It is not clear where the woman had been travelling in Asia, but the UK two previous confirmed cases were imported from Afghanistan and Bulgaria, in 2012 and 2014.
No onward transmission of the disease — which is deadly in up to 40 per cent of sufferers — was detected in those cases.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said the risk to the public is ‘very low’.
The patient was diagnosed at 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 globe per year. Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan and parts of Russia record more than 50 cases per year. Meanwhile, while 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 chiefs said the risk to public health is low, as the disease is usually spread through bites from ticks that are not present in the UK and is not easily transmitted between people. Pictured: stock image of tick
WHAT IS CRIMEAN-CONGO HAEMORRHAGIC FEVER (CCHP)?
Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is a tick-borne viral disease.
It triggers symptoms including high fever, muscle pain, dizziness, abnormal sensitivity to light, abdominal pain and vomiting.
Later on, sharp mood swings may occur, and the patient may become confused and aggressive.
CCHF virus is widespread and the virus has been found among ticks in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe and South Western Europe.
In Europe cases of human infections have been reported from Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
In June 2008, a first case was diagnosed in Greece 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 detected in March 2022 in a woman who had recently travelled to central Asia.
The latest patient was diagnosed at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and is receiving specialist care at the Royal Free Hospital in London, which has a specialist unit for tropical diseases.
Dr Hopkins said: ‘It’s important to be aware that Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is usually 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 the individuals who have had close contact with the case prior to confirmation of their infection, to assess them as necessary and provide advice.
‘UKHSA and the NHS have well established and robust infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious disease and these will be strictly followed.’
People can also become infected after contact with blood or tissue of infected livestock.
It can spread between humans through through bodily fluids or among hospital patients if medical equipment is not properly sterilised.
The WHO warns CCHP outbreaks are a ‘threat to public health services’ and ‘potentially results in hospital and health facility outbreaks’.
Symptoms of the virus come on suddenly and include fever, muscle ache, dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and sensitivity to light.
People can also suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and sore throat early on, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion.
Other signs include rash in the mouth and throat, fast heart rate and enlarged lymph nodes.
Dr Sir Michael Jacobs, consultant in infectious diseases at the Royal Free London, said: ‘The Royal Free Hospital is a specialist centre for treating 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 staff and is designed to ensure we can safely treat patients with these kind of infections.’
Hyalomma ticks are the main carrier of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever. This type of tick is not established in the UK and the virus has never been detected in Britain.
Officials advise anyone visiting areas where the ticks are found — including Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and Asia — to use tick repellents and check their clothing and skin carefully for the insects.
The disease was first detected in Crimea in 1944 and given the name Crimean haemorrhagic fever.
But in 1969, medics realised the pathogen that triggered this disease was responsible for an illness identified in the Congo in 1956.
This led to the virus being named Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, to encompass both locations.