An epidemic is sweeping along the borders of Pakistan and Iran, among Afghan refugees, and officials fear that it may be caused by former Soviet biological weapons.

In Quetta, Pakistan, at least 75 people have been diagnosed with Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever in the largest outbreak of the disease ever recorded. Eight have already died. All the infected people are refugees who recently arrived from Afghanistan or people who live close to the border. An isolation ward surrounded by barbed wire has been established at the Fatima Jinnah hospital in Quetta.

Ali-Safar Makaanali, the head of Iran?s Border Quarantines, says that Iranian health officials are dealing with an outbreak of the same virus, with more than 100 people infected. Iranian health authorities have established 40 quarantine bases on the border in an attempt to halt the spread of the disease. In addition, more than 100 mobile quarantine bases have been set up, and 39 hospitals are prepared to treat these patients.

The virus has a mortality rate of over 50 per cent, damaging arteries, veins and other blood vessels before leading to the collapse of major organs, eventually causing its victim to die of internal bleeding. The disease is highly infectious and can be transmitted through contact with infected individuals.

The infection is caused by ticks and many refugees are bringing their livestock with them, so this could be the cause of the outbreaks. However, in the 1980s the USSR?s biological warfare research organization Biopreparat intensively studied biological weapons and maintained a bank of 10,000 of the most dangerous and exotic viruses known, including Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, as well as smallpox and Ebola. Intelligence analysts believe that Osama bin Laden acquired biological weapons agents from arms dealers in ex-Soviet republics. If they were dispersed in Afghanistan, they would have infected citizens who have now become unintentional martyrs, spreading the disease into countries allied with the U.S.

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