A woman is receiving specialist treatment for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever in London after travelling to central Asia, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.
The viral disease is usually transmitted by ticks and livestock animals in countries where it is endemic. It is only the third time a case has ever been identified in the UK.
The patient was diagnosed at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS foundation trust, and is now receiving specialist care at the Royal free hospital in London.
Dr Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser at the UKHSA, said the virus “does not spread easily between people and the overall risk to the public is very low”. Two cases were reported in 2012 and 2014, neither of which spread.
Hopkins said the agency was working to contact people who were in close contact with the woman to assess them and provide advice. She added: “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.”
According to the World Health Organization, about 30% of patients die, usually in the second week of infection. For those who recover, improvement generally begins on the ninth or 10th day after the onset of illness.
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. Early on, people can also experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and a sore throat, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion. Other signs include a rash in the mouth and throat, fast heart rate and enlarged lymph nodes.
Dr Sir Michael Jacobs, a consultant in infectious diseases at the Royal Free London NHS foundation trust, 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 kinds of infections.”
A type of tick known as Hyalomma tick is the main carrier. These are not established in the UK and the virus has never been detected in a tick in the country. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, affected ticks are found in north Africa, Asia, and southern and eastern Europe.
The disease was identified in 1944 in Crimea and named Crimean haemorrhagic fever. After it was recognised in 1969 that the same organism was causing an illness identified in 1956 in the Congo, it was renamed Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever.