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Hemorrhagic Fever in Saudi Arabia: Following the Ticks

Categories: Vectorborne

Bobbie Rae Erickson (center, in black) of CDC's Special Pathogens Branch meets with Saudi and other scientists near a goat pen to learn about Alkhurma virus transmission in livestock.

Bobbie Rae Erickson (center, in black) of CDC's Special Pathogens Branch meets with Saudi and other scientists near a goat pen to learn about Alkhurma virus transmission in livestock.

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.

Pierre Rollin (center) and Adam MacNeil (right) of CDC's Special Pathogens Branch inspect a camel for ticks carrying the Alkhurma virus.

Pierre Rollin (center) and Adam MacNeil (right) of CDC's Special Pathogens Branch inspect a camel for ticks carrying the Alkhurma virus.

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?

People at greatest risk of becoming infected are often involved in slaughtering animals or have direct and regular contact with farm animals or ticks. Symptoms of Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever include fever, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms can progress to encephalitis, bleeding, or even death. Initial studies suggested a fatality rate as high as 25% following infection. However, as more cases are identified, this figure will likely decrease. There is no vaccine or specific drug therapy available. Currently, Alkhurma virus studies take place in a Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory setting, where laboratorians use special equipment to protect against any exposure to the virus.

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.

Adam MacNeil (center) of CDC's Special Pathogens Branch responds to questions from Saudi media on the Alkhurma virus and the disease it causes.

Adam MacNeil (center) of CDC's Special Pathogens Branch responds to questions from Saudi media on the Alkhurma virus and the disease it causes.

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.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. June 2, 2011 at 7:02 pm ET  -   blogs.cdc.gov

    Hemorrhagic fever in saudi arabia following the ticks.. Peachy :)

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  2. June 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm ET  -   blogs.cdc.gov

    Hemorrhagic fever in saudi arabia following the ticks.. Reposted it :)

    Link to this comment

  3. December 4, 2011 at 8:13 am ET  -   Proviron 25 mg

    Hello, it really interesting, thanks blogs.cdc.gov

    Link to this comment

  4. January 30, 2012 at 6:46 am ET  -   Сialis tadalafil

    Thanks for sharing this with us. i found it informative and interesting. Looking forward for more updates..

    Link to this comment

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