Saudi Arabia has recently put everyone on high alert due to the possibility of an Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever outbreak. When media outlets had covered the story, a particular emphasis was put on hemorrhagic fevers – such as Ebola – which can be potentially fatal to the people they infect. However, there was no Alkhurma outbreak – but reporters seemed to think the disease was out there regardless. What exactly happened, and what is the Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever?
According to the Saudi Ministry of Health, there were in fact no cases of Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever anywhere in Saudi Arabia this 2018. The ministry took the time to explain that what they had asked to cascade was a memo asking Jeddah-based healthcare workers to “stay vigilant and alert” for signs of the disease. When it reached reporters, some thought this may actually be an Alkhurma Hemorrhagic fever on the loose.
Regardless, it may be beneficial to learn about Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever, given it’s quite an unknown disease outside to the Arab nations. The disease is a hemorrhagic fever, which is the name used to identify a group of illnesses classified by their ability to cause bleeding. Those with hemorrhagic fevers often have bleeding from body parts such as the ears, nose, and eyes.
Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever in particular has been detected so far in Egypt, Africa, and Saudi Arabia. The disease was first discovered from a sheep that spread the infection in Alkhurma, Saudi Arabia – hence the name. NPR spoke with Dennis Bente from the University of Texas to learn more about the disease.
According to Bente, Alkhurma fever is a recent discovery, having only been detected back in 1995 in Jeddah. Butchers in a slaughterhouse were found to be the first victims of the disease, with only a few hundred being infected since. Given its recent discovery, not a lot is known about the full extent of the disease. Transmission, however, has been known to be via ticks that can transmit the disease through bites or if crushed. Some show that even contact with livestock or animals with the virus can increase the risk of infection – which means even encountering the blood or raw meat of said infected animal can transmit the disease. No cases have been seen of human-to-human transmission.
Symptoms include an onset of rapid vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, headache, and high fever. A much deadlier second phase include symptoms of hemorrhage such as intestinal bleeding, gum bleeding, and even nosebleeds. If the central nervous system becomes affected, victims can even experience convulsions, altered senses, or even be into a coma.
As per a widespread outbreak, tick-borne diseases can be looked at similar to how mosquito-borne diseases are spread. However, unlike mosquitoes, ticks are normally found in certain geographical areas – and given that ticks have strict habitat requirements, outbreaks are likely to be contained in an area. This is of course unless they are brought to other regions by migratory birds and other hosts.
No vaccine has been built for the disease so far, but those concerned are advised to at least find measures to prevent tick bites such as wearing clothes that cover the body.
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