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Academy Of Medicine Specialties Issues Advisory On Escalating Cholera Epidemic

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Prof. Oladapo Ashiru
Prof. Oladapo Ashiru

The Academy of Medicine Specialties of Nigeria has issued a public advisory regarding the cholera epidemic affecting the country, insisting that the cases could grow as the rainy season sets in.

President of the academy, Prof. Oladapo Ashiru shared this in a statement over the weekend, which was made available to Science Nigeria.

As of June 24, 2024, there have been 1,528 suspected cases, 65 confirmed cases, and 53 deaths across 107 local government areas in 31 states. The most affected states include Bayelsa, Zamfara, Abia, Cross River, Bauchi, Delta, Katsina, Imo, Nasarawa and Lagos.

Ashiru noted that the epidemic is expected to worsen due to the rainy season, which can lead to flooding and further contamination of water sources. “The advisory highlights the need for increased public awareness, provision of clean water, improved sanitation, early treatment, effective coordination of resources and targeted vaccination with the Oral Cholera Vaccine (OCV). The academy emphasises the importance of research and data-driven solutions and calls for increased funding and the immediate release of allocated funds for public health emergencies. Additionally, the academy suggests active disease surveillance, quick identification of cases, and effective risk communication strategies to manage and control the epidemic,” he explained.

He said that the academy is committed to partnering with government health agencies to rapidly control the outbreak and would provide ongoing evidence-based advisories for effective prevention and control of cholera in Nigeria.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cholera is a food and water-borne disease caused by the ingestion of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae in contaminated water and food. Water is usually contaminated by the faeces of infected individuals. Contamination of drinking water can occur at the source, during transportation, or during storage at home. Food may be contaminated by soiled hands, either during preparation or while eating. Beverages prepared with contaminated water and sold by street vendors, ice and even commercial bottled water have been implicated as vehicles of transmission, as have cooked vegetables and fruits freshened with untreated wastewater.

The time between infection and the appearance of symptoms ranges from two hours to five days. The risk of transmission is higher in areas lacking adequate sanitation facilities and a regular supply of clean water. Unsafe practices such as improper disposal of refuse and open defecation endanger the safety of water used for drinking and personal use.

Individuals at higher risk include:

– People of all ages living in places with limited access to clean water

– People living in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene

– People living in slum areas where basic water or sanitation infrastructure is missing

– People in rural areas who depend on surface water or unsafe piped or borehole water sources for drinking

– People who consume potentially contaminated food or fruits without proper washing and cooking

– People who do not practice proper hand hygiene

– Individuals in areas affected by man-made or natural disasters like floods, leading to population movements and overcrowded refugee camps

– Relatives caring for cholera patients at home

– Healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, and other health workers, who provide direct patient care without standard precautions

Symptoms of cholera include acute profuse, painless watery diarrhoea (often described as ‘rice water’ stools) of sudden onset, with or without vomiting. It may also be associated with nausea, profuse vomiting and fever. Severe cases can lead to death within hours due to dehydration (massive body fluid loss). However, most infected people (about 80 per cent) may only show mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all.

The disease is easily treatable if detected early. Most infected people can be treated successfully through prompt administration of oral rehydration solution (ORS) to replace lost fluids and electrolytes, and appropriate antibiotics. The ORS solution is a powder that can be reconstituted in boiled or bottled water. Cholera can be deadly when infected people do not access care immediately.

Cholera can be prevented by ensuring access to safe, potable drinking water, proper sanitation and waste disposal and appropriate hygiene practices, including handwashing. Raw fruits and vegetables, food from street vendors and raw or undercooked seafood should be avoided. Ensure that water is boiled and stored in a clean and covered container before drinking. Practice good personal hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently with soap under clean running water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and clean water are not available.

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