VHF outbreak in Herat Province kills three

HERAT, 27 August 2008 (IRIN) - An outbreak of Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF) has killed at least three people in Herat Province, western Afghanistan, over the past three days, the Ministry of Public Health has said.

The highly contagious disease was first reported on 26 August in Herat city where health officials confirmed 10 VHF suspected cases.

"All 10 suspected patients have been put in quarantine in Herat hospital," said Gulam Saeed Rashid, director of Herat's public health department, adding that VHF was transmissible from human-to-human and animal-to-human in situations of close physical proximity.

"We are doing everything in our capacity to [stop] the disease," he said, adding that aid organisations must provide technical and medical assistance to curb the further spread of the virus.

"VHF is more serious than HIV/AIDS and can rapidly infect thousands of people," Rashid said.

Others are also worried: Health officials in Herat's neighbouring province of Ghor have expressed concern about their "vulnerability" to the disease and inability to control any outbreak.

Sheep ticks

There are several types of VHF. Most are caused by five distinct families of viruses - Arenaviridae, Filoviridae, Bunyaviridae, Togaviridae and Flaviviridae - according to the World Health Organization.

The VHF reported in Herat has been characterised by severe fever, bleeding diathesis, headache, vomiting and shock.

"Our preliminary diagnosis has indicated that the disease might have been spread by ticks, particularly sheep ticks," said Ahmadshah Shokohmand, an official in the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul.

The 10 suspected cases were mostly butchers, shepherds and/or those involved with animal husbandry, health officials said.

Officials estimated there were 2.5 million sheep in Herat Province but there was uncertainty as to how many animals might have been infected by the virus.

Treatment

The treatment of a VHF patient requires antiviral therapy and intensive medical care, health experts say.

However, public health officials in Herat said they had only one type of tablet which can be helpful; they could not guarantee quick treatment or a complete cure for VHF patients. "The tablets we have, have a 50 percent success rate," said Herat health department's Rashid.

VHF has rarely occurred in Afghanistan, so the country does not have advanced technical and medical resources to tackle it quickly, health officials said.

Herat Province has suffered numerous problems recently: an extremely cold winter in 2007-2008, severe drought, dust storms, unusual diseases such as Charmak, and now VHF.

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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