Common Diseases in KazakhstanSandwiched between Russia in the north, China and Mongolia in the east and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in the south, Kazakhstan is a country with many different ethnic communities. Travelers from around the world come to experience the unique history and culture of the 18 million people who call Kazakhstan home. And yet around 14 percent of those living in rural areas face unimproved access to water, and 2.5 percent need better access to sanitation facilities. With this comes a range of communicable diseases in Kazakhstan.

  1. Diarrhea is a gastrointestinal infection caused by ingesting bacteria, viruses or protozoa. These microorganisms are commonly spread by poor hygienic and sanitary practices and contaminated food and water. Symptoms include abdominal pain, fever, bloody or watery stool, bloating and nausea. Diarrhea and lower respiratory infectious diseases contribute 25 of every 100,000 annual deaths.
  2. Hepatitis A is prevalent in areas that lack proper sanitary conditions. It is primarily transmitted via the fecal-oral route or through contaminated food (such as shellfish, uncooked vegetables or fruit prepared by infected handlers). It is typically acquired in childhood, when the virus is asymptomatic but still communicable. Those who show symptoms experience malaise, nausea, jaundice and abdominal pain, and it is especially dangerous for the elderly population. The illness can last from one to two weeks to multiple months, and there is an annual mortality rate of around .058 per 100,000.
  3. Hepatitis B can cause acute or chronic liver infections caused by the HBV virus and is passed through infected blood, unprotected sex, contaminated objects such as razor blades or medical equipment and childbirth. Most of the time those infected are asymptomatic, but symptoms can occur anywhere from 30 days to six months after exposure.  Symptoms include fatigue, dark urine, nausea and, more severely, liver cirrhosis or cancer. The annual mortality rate for the HBV virus is around .317 per 100,000 in Kazakhstan. Travelers getting tattoos or piercings abroad, sharing needles or undergoing medical or dental procedures should remain wary of risks.
  4. Leishmaniasis is a parasitic infection spread through the bite of infected sandflies. Sandflies are common in forests, stone and mud structures and animal burrows, and remain active from dusk to dawn. It is categorized as a Neglected Tropical Disease, meaning it is chronic in low-income countries and prevents affected individuals from going to school or working and so contributes to the cycle of poverty. Symptoms of a cutaneous infection include skin lesions that can further be infected by bacteria. The infection can spread, causing sores and blood loss in the nose, mouth and throat. If the infection is visceral, the parasite attacks the liver, spleen, bone marrow and skin, and causes fever, weight loss and enlargement of the liver. This type can be fatal, especially if present alongside tuberculosis or pneumonia.
  5. Meningitis is a bacterial infection that affects the meninges, membrane covering the brain and spinal cord. The bacteria is transmitted through respiratory secretions, that come from sneezing, coughing or kissing. It can result in mental retardation, deafness and epilepsy and is fatal in 50 percent of untreated cases. More common symptoms are stiff neck, fever, sensitivity to light and disorientation, but five to 10 percent of patients can die within 24 to 48 hours. In Kazakhstan, the average annual mortality rate due to meningitis is 1.4 per 100,000 cases.
  6. Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE) is a risk especially in eastern and southern parts of Kazakhstan. Transmission seasons can vary, but ticks are most active from early spring until late autumn. Humans are infected by one of three types of TBE, which can cause fatigue, appetite loss and muscle pain. Around one-third of those infected develop severe symptoms, where the virus can cause meningitis and/or encephalitis upon first phase. Second phase symptoms include stiff neck, fever, disorientation, seizures, paralysis and even long-term effects such as memory loss, speech and language issues, mood disorders or epilepsy.
  7. Tuberculosis (TB) is an airborne bacterial infection contracted through air droplets from infected persons’ coughs or sneezes. It can also be ingested in unpasteurized milk products that contain bovine tuberculosis. The most common form is pulmonary TB, affecting the lungs, but it can also affect the lymphatic or central nervous system or urogenital areas and bones. Ninety to 95 percent of those with TB have latent TB and do not exhibit symptoms, but those who show symptoms face excessive coughing, chest pain, weight loss and weakness. Many times TB patients are wrongly and dangerously misdiagnosed with bronchitis. The annual TB mortality rate in Kazakhstan is around 15 per 100,000 cases, which has actually increased 14.1 percent from measurements in 1990.

Though Kazakhstan is considered a developing country, the government is indeed making strides in pushing for earlier vaccinations against these common diseases in Kazakhstan. In its future the country will need proper funding and support to improve citizens’ access to proper water and sanitation facilities in rural areas.

– Zar-Tashiya Khan

Photo: Flickr