KARACHI - Significant movement of livestock to cities during Eid-ul-Adha coupled with persistent rainfall is exposing new areas of the country to dangerous vector-borne diseases like Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) and chikungunya.

Health researchers and infectious disease specialists addressing a capacity-building session for Sindh-based doctors, jointly organised by Directorate of Health Services and World Health Organization (WHO) at Aga Khan University warned that seasonal changes were also increasing risk of vector-borne diseases (VBD).

The event was aimed at disseminating the latest knowledge about diagnosis and management of complicated cases of CCHF, chikungunya, dengue, malaria, naegleria and West Nile virus among the province based physicians.

Experts noted that cases of CCHF, a deadly disease which has been found in animals in Balochistan and Kashmir, are being detected in new areas of the country such as Bahawalpur in Punjab.

“There has been a rising trend of CCHF cases and this is likely to intensify as Eid approaches,” they warned while highlighting absence of a screening mechanism for cattle.

Prevalence of poor hygiene practices among butchers was cited to be another reason for the new cases of CCHF.

Professor Bushra Jamil from the department of medicine at Aga Khan University said CCHF was a life-threatening illness that required immediate treatment.

Symptoms of CCHF were cited to include severe abdominal pain as well as the persistence of fever.

In the given situation doctors were urged to quickly ascertain the patient’s history of interacting with livestock and to urgently order specialized tests for CCHF.

The country was said to be also at high risk of disease outbreaks because of unplanned expansion in cities, unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, poor socioeconomic conditions, low health awareness and inadequate vaccination coverage.

In the session on chikungunya, experts stated that the country noticed its first-ever outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease in Karachi in December 2016.

Over 2,000 people contracted the disease with the majority of cases being reported at Malir and Korangi in Karachi they said mentioning that new cases have been reported in Thar.

Experts mentioned that heavy rainfall in areas with poor sanitation facilities created an ideal environment for the breeding of mosquitos, that carry the virus.

Speakers noted that patients suffering from chikungunya often came to the hospital with high-grade fever: a symptom that is often seen with other diseases such as malaria and dengue.

To identify the disease correctly and to rule out malaria, experts urged doctors to conduct blood culture and routine laboratory tests for every case of fever which requires hospitalization. Doctors should then concentrate on treating the effects of chikungunya such as severe joint pain.

Mild cases, they said can be treated with painkillers, but if a patient is experiencing incapacitating pain that does not go away with regular analgesics; steroids should be used.

“Many misconceptions are present about chikungunya being a deadly disease. However, most patients make a full recovery. As doctors improve their diagnosis skills we should be able to reduce the health effects of this disease,” said Dr Nida Siddiqui, a WHO consultant on communicable diseases.

Other sessions at the event saw health experts highlight the need to improve the quality of the country’s water supply to prevent cases of naegleria, a deadly brain infection.

Speakers shared that simple steps that can be taken at home like adding two tablespoons of chlorine solution to water tanks can avert the onset of naegleria. They also called on water board authorities and local governments to improve systems to pump and chlorinate water.

Dr. Anum Ahmed, representing the Directorate of Health Services - Sindh said the two-day capacity building session that concluded Tuesday was the first of three such events to improve the treatment of vector-borne and other emerging infections.

Future events will consider how to improve planning mechanisms and how to tackle issues such as the management of organisms and animals that spread diseases, she added.

Sessions under the two-day event are in line with global efforts to achieve targets under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Goal 3: ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, calls for special efforts to combat the spread of malaria, water-borne diseases and other communicable illnesses by 2030.