As scientists with CDC’s Special Pathogens Branch, Pierre Rollin, Bobbie Rae Erickson, and I recently boarded a flight from Atlanta to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, so that we could provide health officials with our expertise on Alkhurma virus. This virus causes Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever, a tick-borne disease that can be serious, even fatal, in humans. Ticks with the Alkhurma virus are believed to pass the virus on to camels, sheep, and goats. It’s not a new disease, but it is a high-hazard disease that we have much to learn about.
We were invited to participate in a scientific summit to develop a national plan for surveillance, investigation, and control of Alkurma virus in Saudi Arabia.
While we were in Saudi Arabia, we met with officials from the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Wildlife as well as infectious disease physicians and internationally recognized virologists, entomologists, and news reporters interested in the disease. Our team also spent time working hands-on with the Field Epidemiology Training Program of Saudi Arabia and the national reference laboratory of Saudi Arabia.
Who is Most at Risk?
While Alkhurma virus is likely not a new tick-borne virus, very little is currently known about the distribution of the virus, its transmission cycle, or the full scope of symptoms of human infection. Analysis by CDC scientists of genetic sequences of a small number of samples collected in Saudi Arabia suggests that this virus has limited genetic diversity.
Our team recommended instituting new surveillance strategies to learn more about how widespread human cases of Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever are within the country. We also advised health officials about the diagnostic techniques and reagents needed for successful laboratory testing and analysis of patient blood samples. In addition, we recommended that standards for animal slaughter be improved to ensure that butchers, veterinarians, and others at risk for occupational exposure to the virus are better protected against possible infection.
Our work in Saudi Arabia supports the Special Pathogens Branch’s mission of improving our understanding of high-hazard diseases such as Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever and helping other countries improve their activities to detect, control, and prevent such diseases.