Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is a tick-borne disease that occurs in parts of Asia, Europe and Africa. Since 2000 the infection has caused epidemics in Turkey, Iran, Russia, Uganda and Pakistan. Good-quality general supportive medical care helps reduce mortality. There is uncertainty and controversy about treating CCHF with the antiviral drug ribavirin.
To assess the effects of ribavirin for treating people with Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever.
We searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register; the Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); MEDLINE (PubMed); Embase (OVID); Science Citation Index-Expanded, Social Sciences Citation index, conference proceedings (Web of Science); and CINAHL (EBSCOHost). We also searched the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) and ClinicalTrials.gov for trials in progress. We conducted all searches up to 16 October 2017. We also contacted experts in the field and obtained further studies from these sources.
We evaluated studies assessing the use of ribavirin in people with suspected or confirmed Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever. We included randomised control trials (RCTs); non-randomised studies (NRSs) that included more than 10 participants designed as cohort studies with comparators; and case-control studies.
Data collection and analysis
Two review authors assessed eligibility, risk of bias, and extracted data. For non-randomized studies we used the ROBINS-I tool to assess risk of bias. The main effects analysis included all studies where we judged the risk of bias to be low, moderate or high. We summarized dichotomous outcomes using risk ratios (RRs) and continuous outcomes using mean differences (MDs), and used meta-analyses where appropriate. We carried out a subsidiary appraisal and analysis of studies with critical risk of bias for the primary outcome, as these are often cited to support using ribavirin.
For the main effects analysis, five studies met our inclusion criteria: one RCT with 136 participants and four non-randomized studies with 612 participants. We excluded 18 non-randomized studies with critical risk of bias, where none had attempted to control for confounding.
We do not know if ribavirin reduces mortality (1 RCT; RR 1.13, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.29 to 4.32; 136 participants; very low-certainty evidence; 3 non-randomized studies; RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.41 to 1.28; 549 participants; very low-certainty evidence). We do not know if ribavirin reduces the length of stay in hospital (1 RCT: mean difference (MD) 0.70 days, 95% CI -0.39 to 1.79; 136 participants; and 1 non-randomized study: MD -0.80, 95% CI -2.70 to 1.10; 50 participants; very low-certainty evidence). We do not know if it reduces the risk of patients needing platelet transfusions (1 RCT: RR 1.23, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.96; 136 participants; very low-certainty evidence). For adverse effects (including haemolytic anaemia and a need to discontinue treatment), we do not know whether there is an increased risk with ribavirin in people with CCHF as data are insufficient.
We do not know if adding ribavirin to early supportive care improves outcomes. One non-randomized study assessed mortality in people receiving ribavirin and supportive care within four days or less from symptom onset compared to after four days since symptom onset: mortality was lower in the group receiving early supportive care and ribavirin, but it is not possible to distinguish between the effects of ribavirin and early supportive medical care alone.
In the subsidiary analysis, 18 studies compared people receiving ribavirin with those not receiving ribavirin. All had a critical risk of bias due to confounding, reflected in the mortality point estimates favouring ribavirin.
We do not know if ribavirin is effective for treating Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever. Non-randomized studies are often cited as evidence of an effect, but the risk of bias in these studies is high.