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Congo fever strikes in city

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'It is suspected that the ticks came from the veld as there is a lot of veld around the mine where he works"

Picture: Brenton Geach \n\n\n

A WELL-KNOWN Kimberley man, Mark Elliott, is being treated for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), commonly known as Congo fever, in the isolation unit at the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital.

Elliott is the second patient to be diagnosed with Congo fever in South Africa this year. The other case is in the Free State.

According to Elliott’s wife, Sharon, the 58-year-old started feeling ill on Sunday.

“We went away for the weekend and when we came home my husband, who enjoys generally good health, began to complain of joint pain, a headache and feeling nauseous.”

Sharon said he went to work at the Kareevlei Mine in the Koopmansfontein area on Monday, still feeling unwell.

“He had to attend a meeting but felt too ill and he knew he had to see a doctor. He then drove through to Kimberley and saw a doctor at the Mediclinic Gariep hospital.

“He was referred to a specialist as it was suspected that he could have contracted Congo fever as he had been bitten the week before by ticks.”

The specialist transferred him to the isolation unit at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe (RMS) Hospital.

This is also where Elliott had blood tests done to confirm that he had Congo fever, as these tests cannot be done in the private sector.

The diagnosis of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever was confirmed yesterday morning.

Sharon said he had a bite mark on his shoulder and he found a tick in his groin area last week.

“It is suspected that the ticks came from the veld as there is a lot of veld around the mine where he works.”

She added that Elliott was receiving the normal treatment for Congo fever.

“We are very fortunate that there are no signs of haemorrhaging at this stage and we are hopeful that he recovers without any complications. He is fine at this stage, although he is being kept in isolation. I can wave at him through the glass window and we keep in contact on the phone.”

As Congo fever is contagious and is transmitted from one infected human to another by contact with infected blood or body fluids, Sharon will have to monitor herself for the next few days.

“I was instructed by the doctor to take my temperature twice a day for two weeks as well as to watch out for any bleeding, flu-like symptoms and joint pain. I have also just been told to leave work.”

There is no danger, however, of other contacts at this stage.

Mediclinic Gariep spokesperson Denise Coetzee confirmed yesterday that a 58-year-old male patient, with possible Congo fever, was referred to the RMS hospital on the evening of March 25. “The patient had a history of being bitten by a tick and presented with fever and swollen glands.”

The Northern Cape Department of Health also confirmed yesterday that a 58-year-old male was admitted to the isolation unit at RMS Hospital.

Department spokesperson Lulu Mxekezo said that the man works near Koopmansfontein and was bitten by a tick sometime last week.

“A laboratory test result on Tuesday confirmed he is suffering from Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF). He is currently in a stable condition, still in the isolation unit,” Mxekezo said.

The length of the incubation period for Congo fever depends on the mode of acquisition of the virus.

According to the World Health Organisation, following infection by a tick bite the incubation period is usually one to three days, with a maximum of nine days. The incubation period following contact with infected blood or tissues is usually five to six days, with a documented maximum of 13 days.

Onset of symptoms is sudden, with fever, myalgia (muscle ache), dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and photophobia (sensitivity to light). There may be nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and a sore throat early on, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion. After two to four days, the agitation may be replaced by sleepiness, depression and lassitude, and the abdominal pain may localise to the upper right quadrant, with detectable hepatomegaly (liver enlargement).

Other clinical signs include tachycardia (fast heart rate), lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes) and a petechial rash (a rash caused by bleeding into the skin) on internal mucosal surfaces, such as in the mouth and throat and on the skin. The petechiae may give way to larger rashes called ecchymoses, and other haemorrhagic phenomena. There is usually evidence of hepatitis, and severely ill patients may experience rapid kidney deterioration, sudden liver failure or pulmonary failure after the fifth day of illness.

The mortality rate from CCHF is approximately 30%, with death occurring in the second week of illness. In patients who recover, improvement generally begins on the ninth or 10th day after the onset of illness.