Background: Undifferentiated febrile illness (UFI) is one of the most common reasons for people seeking healthcare in low-income countries. While illness and death due to specific infections such as malaria are often well-quantified, others are frequently uncounted and their impact underappreciated. A number of high consequence infectious diseases, including Ebola virus, are endemic or epidemic in the Federal Republic of Sudan which has experienced at least 12 UFI outbreaks, frequently associated with haemorrhage and high case fatality rates (CFR), since 2012. One of these occurred in Darfur in 2015/2016 with 594 cases and 108 deaths (CFR 18.2%). The aetiology of these outbreaks remains unknown. Methodology/Principal findings: We report a retrospective cohort study of the 2015/2016 Darfur outbreak, using a subset of 65 of 263 outbreak samples received by the National Public Health Laboratory which met selection criteria of sufficient sample volume and epidemiological data. Clinical features included fever (95.8%), bleeding (95.7%), headache (51.6%) and arthralgia (42.2%). No epidemiological patterns indicative of person-to-person transmission or health-worker cases were reported. Samples were tested at the Public Health England Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory using a bespoke panel of likely pathogens including haemorrhagic fever viruses, arboviruses and Rickettsia, Leptospira and Borrelia spp. Seven (11%) were positive for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV) by real-time reverse transcription PCR. The remaining samples tested negative on all assays. Conclusions/Significance: CCHFV is an important cause of fever and haemorrhage in Darfur, but not the sole major source of UFI outbreaks in Sudan. Prospective studies are needed to explore other aetiologies, including novel pathogens. The presence of CCHFV has critical infection, prevention and control as well as clinical implications for future response. Our study reinforces the need to boost surveillance, lab and investigative capacity to underpin effective response, and for local and international health security.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The study was funded by UK aid from the Department of Health and Social Care via the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team Research Programme. The grant (EPIDZK3819) was awarded to HB. The funder had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis,decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. We are grateful for the support and professional collaboration of the Federal Ministry of Health of Sudan (FMoH), particularly the Deputy Minister of Health and Undersecretary of Health as well as members of the National Public Health Laboratory Virology Department, and of the FMoH Communicable Disease Surveillance and Event Unit in the Health Emergency and Epidemic Control Directorate.