The impact of climate change on tick-borne disease in Europe is a health issue that may cause severe health problems. Warmer temperatures are reshaping Europe into an ideal habitat for ticks harboring the CCHF virus, a perilous pathogen that can lead to fatal outcomes in severe cases.
The Potential Spread of Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever
According to scientists, this deadly disease, typically prevalent in the Balkans, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, may soon extend its reach across Europe as climate change propels these insects to migrate throughout the continent.
Alarming concerns have been raised by experts regarding the potential proliferation of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF), which the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified as one of its nine “priority diseases,” signifying the most significant threats to public health.
Evidence of Spread and Reported Cases
The warnings issued by scientists are not mere speculation but rather a reflection of the existing situation in Europe, where Spain reported an instance of this fatal disease last year.
Spain’s encounter with CCHF dates back to 2011 and 2016 when the country first identified cases of the disease. In 2016, a man lost his life after being diagnosed with the illness subsequent to a tick bite in Spain.
In an interview with Modern Diplomacy in April, Ali Mirazimi, a virologist at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, revealed that ticks carrying the virus are expanding their presence in Europe due to the influence of climate change, manifested through prolonged and arid summers.
CCHF has also been recently detected in Iraq and Namibia, with reported fatalities in Pakistan. Iraq witnessed a surge in CCHF cases last year, recording a total of 212 incidents between January 1 and May 22. This year has already seen an estimated 100 cases, resulting in 13 deaths.
Understanding CCHF: Causes and Symptoms
CCHF was initially identified in Crimea in 1944, thus acquiring its name from the region.
This disease is caused by the Nairovirus, a tick-borne virus belonging to the Bunyaviridae family. It incites severe outbreaks of viral hemorrhagic fever, characterized by symptoms such as high fever, headaches, back and joint pain, stomach ache, and vomiting, and exhibits a fatality rate ranging from 10 to 40 percent.
In severe cases, individuals may also experience jaundice, mood swings, and sensory disturbances as additional symptoms associated with the virus, as specified by the WHO.
Transmission and Vulnerable Populations
Certain animals, including cattle, sheep, and goats, are susceptible to this virus. Humans can contract the disease through tick bites or by coming into contact with infected animal blood or tissue during and immediately after slaughtering procedures.
Consequently, the majority of CCHF cases in humans have occurred among slaughterhouse workers and veterinarians.
If bitten by an infected tick, the incubation period of the virus in humans generally lasts between 3 and 9 days. The virus can be transmitted between individuals through contact with infected persons’ blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids.
Those who recover from the illness typically do so around the ninth or tenth day after falling ill, while fatalities usually transpire during the second week of the disease.
Protective Measures and Treatment Options
The good news is that there exists an effective treatment for CCHF, namely the antiviral drug ribavirin, which has demonstrated curative properties against the disease.
However, the unfortunate reality is that, despite the development of an inactivated vaccine currently in limited use in Eastern Europe, there is currently no widely available safe and effective vaccine for human use, as stated by the WHO.
Nonetheless, numerous preventive measures can be taken to minimize the risk of infection and avoid tick bites.
Tips for Protection
If you find yourself in a tick-prone area such as the countryside or grassy parks, it is advisable to wear long sleeves, long trousers, and light-colored clothing that facilitates the easy detection of ticks.
There are sprays, repellents, and tools designed to safely eliminate ticks. Nevertheless, caution must be exercised, as swatting ticks may result in their body parts remaining embedded in the skin.
Individuals working with cattle and other animals affected by CCHF are strongly advised to wear protective gloves and clothing during handling procedures.