Pakistan fears refugees will spread fever

Disease kills 34th patient in Afghan-border region


QUETTA, Pakistan - A 40-year-old truck driver bled to death yesterday, four hours after arriving at a hospital in this frontier city, the 34th person killed by Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever here in 16 months.

The cases of the tick-borne virus have raised alarms because they have been traced to villages and towns along the road between Quetta and Kandahar, Afghanistan, the main population centers in the region.

Medical experts warned that the limited treatment capacity in this province bordering Afghanistan will be overwhelmed if the disease is carried by even a fraction of the tens of thousands of Afghans expected to flee their country in the event of an American attack.

"We are very much scared," said Dr. Akhlaq Hussain, medical superintendent of Fatima Jinnah hospital, the only treatment center in a huge province with a population of 4.4 million. "We have capacity for 10 patients. We don't know how bad it is in Afghanistan or what the refugees will bring here."

The four fever patients at the hospital are confined to an ill-equipped isolation ward in a squat concrete building behind barred windows and barbed wire.

Rather than the full protection suits and headgear common in Western hospitals, doctors and nurses wear only latex gloves, surgical masks and cloth boots.

While cases have appeared sporadically, Hussain said, recent numbers are higher than usual. There have been 63 cases in the past four months and 11 deaths.

Among the victims were 6-year-old and 7-year-old sisters and health workers who are susceptible to infection because of the shortage of protective clothing.

Refugees are particularly susceptible to the fever because of primitive living conditions and an almost complete lack of access to medical care, experts said.

The fever was first identified in 1944 among Soviet soldiers in the Crimea. It was also found in Africa in 1955. The virus shares characteristics with the ebola virus.

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