Expired reagents blamed for erroneous Rift Valley Fever results

The reagents used for testing for Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in Nassiriyah, a town about 300km south of Baghdad, had expired, local authorities said on 14 October.

“Our specialists sent to double check for RVF among livestock in Nassiriyah found that the reagents used [in the initial tests] had expired and the retests done on samples sent to Baghdad showed negative results [for RVF],” Fayad Sulaiman, a senior official in the Ministry of Agriculture, said. “But we are still keeping a watch [on the situation].”

According to Sulaiman, the animals examined were found to have symptoms similar to those of RVF, but veterinary scientists said what they had was skin infections; the only case of a miscarriage among sheep was probably due to malnutrition or contaminated water.

“We are going to examine the prematurely born animal but we are sure it wasn’t caused by RVF,” Sulaiman said. “Vets have treated the animals for skin diseases and warned farmers to inform the local Agriculture Centre should any uncommon symptoms appear among their livestock.”

“The same misleading results were reported in May 2005 by farmers in southern Iraq, and laboratory tests quickly confirmed the results as negative. However, this time we were unlucky to have [used] expired reagents which delayed our final results,” he said.

RVF affects livestock (including cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats and camels) as well as humans. The disease mostly appears in Africa.

People get RVF mainly from infected mosquitoes which act as vectors. The disease can also be spread by contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected animal.

New reagents which have been imported from Jordan confirmed the negative results. “We hope incidents like these don’t happen again,” Sulaiman told IRIN.

According to Muhammad Nafi, a senior official at the Vaccine Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, the reagents originally used had been in storage, and the vaccines used were sent from other southern provinces.

“In the coming months we are going to supply enough vaccines to all livestock in the area [Nassiriyah] to prevent a possible future outbreak. Vaccines will be monitored by local Agriculture Centres and those which have expired will not be used,” Nafi said.

Remaining alert

Farmers have been asked to continue confining their animals within a 2sqkm area for an additional week as part of the prevention programme.

“We have detected negative results but we have to remain alert. Sometimes even trusted chemicals can work wrongly but we are happy to know that it was just a mistake, and Iraqis are safe from a serious disease like RVF,” Nafi said.

Khalid Idris, a veterinary specialist in Nassiriyah who has been dealing with the problem and reported RVF-type symptoms among local animals, told IRIN that all the indications, including the miscarriage of a sheep, pointed to RVF.

“The symptoms were very close to those of RVF and we trusted the positive results obtained. We never imaged that the reagents used had expired, although I feel it is possible there is more to the disease than just skin disorders. It might be a more dangerous illness,” Idris said.

Idris has been asked by the provincial council of Dhi Qar to leave the case to specialists in Baghdad.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said they had asked the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture for a full update on the case and would continue to monitor developments closely.

as/ar/cb