02.05.2000NE Albania officials on watch for Kosovo rat disease
KUKES - Regional authorities in Albania have gone on high alert over food imports from Kosovo after a disease transmitted by rats hit three regions of Kosovo that border Albania, news-agency ATA said on Monday.
But the government said it has not recorded cases of tularemia yet in the north-eastern part of the country, which is now involved in intensive trade and communications with Kosovo.
A top official from the Kukes region said customs officials have reinforced their food checks at the border crossing between Kukes and Kosovo at Morina and at Prushi Pass.
"We have doubled the number of specialists who will check the quality of food, especially meat products," said Isak Shehu, head of Kukes Agriculture Department.
Reports from Kosovo showed that tularemia, a disease carried by rats, hit the regions of Gjakova, Prizren and Dragas in the past two weeks.
The Albanian region was recently inspected by a team from the World Health Organisation, which urged stronger measures to prevent the disease.
Almost 500 people in Kosovo have been taken ill with a disease believed to have been spread by rats and rabbits, and an international task force was formed in Kosovo at the end of April to combat it, UN officials say.
Victims from the disease suspected to be tularemia, suffer high fever, severe body aches and swollen glands, while some develop neck boils. No deaths have been reported.
A 25-member task force grouping WHO, UNMIK, KFOR peace-keepers, the International Rescue Committee and World Vision agencies was set up this week with more than $500,000 in funding, some from the World Bank. Eighteen of the suspected 480 cases have been confirmed as tularemia in blood tests conducted in neighbouring Albania and Macedonia. More than half had been identified in the past week as rural doctors began responding to an urgent WHO appeal for information to pin-point problem areas.
The first cases date back to August 1999, two months after Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo under NATO bombing that ended the vicious conflict.
"Tularemia can be transmitted to humans via ticks, drinking water contaminated by rats, handling of undercooked infected meats from host animals (including rabbits), and through contaminated soil," a WHO press statement said.
It said the disease control programme would probably include measures to improve waste disposal in Kosovo.