Nigeria Records 123 Diphtheria Cases In 4 States

Diphtheria patient

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has confirmed 123 diphtheria across four states. 

This was revealed by the NCDC’s head of special projects and partnerships unit, Dr. Pricilla Ibekwe today in Abuja, during the ministerial bi-weekly meeting on the update of COVID-19 response and development in the country’s health sector. 

Ibekwe said that in addition to clinically suspected cases, there have been laboratory-confirmed cases and the NCDC is working with state ministries of health and partners to enhance surveillance and response to the outbreak. 

She said that based on the latest reports from states shared with the agency as of January, 22, 123 confirmed cases and 38 deaths have been recorded in four states. 

Ibekwe gave a detailed breakdown by states, vis; Kano, with 100 confirmed cases and 32 deaths, Lagos with five confirmed five cases and three deaths, Yobe with 17  cases and three deaths, while Osun has just a case, with no accompanying death.

She said that diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium called corynebacterium species that affects the nose, throat and, sometimes, skin of individuals.

According to her, diphtheria spreads easily between people through direct contact with infected people droplets from coughing or sneezing and contact with contaminated clothing and objects.

“People most at risk include children and adults who have not received any dose of the pentavalent vaccine, people who live in areas with poor sanitation, people who live in a crowded environment and healthcare workers exposed to suspected or confirmed cases of the disease.

“The onset of signs of the disease usually starts after two to 10 days of exposure to the bacteria,” she said. 

Ibekwe said that symptoms of diphtheria include fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, red eyes (conjunctivitis) and neck swelling. In severe cases, a thick grey or white patch appears on the tonsils and/or at the back of the throat associated with difficulty breathing.

According to her, complications from diphtheria include airway blockage, damage to the heart muscle, nerve damage and kidney failure. However, for some people, respiratory diphtheria can lead to death.

“The agency is collaborated with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to organise a five-day workshop on enhancing laboratory diagnosis of diphtheria in Nigeria for laboratory scientists working in NCDC’s National Reference Laboratories and its lab network “this was planned before cases were reported as part of preparedness,” Ibekwe stated.

She said that the agency has written to all state hospitals and community health services to institute immediate and necessary public health measures for timely detection and response to diphtheria at the state level. 

Ibekwe added that to reduce the risk of diphtheria, the NCDC has published a public health advisory, accessible on our website, which educates Nigerians on risk factors and offers advice, including; “Parents ensuring that their children are fully vaccinated against diphtheria with three doses of the pentavalent vaccine. “Healthcare workers should maintain a high index of suspicion for diphtheria. 

“Individuals with signs and symptoms suggestive of diphtheria should isolate themselves and notify the LGA, DSNO or the NCDC through our toll-free line (6232),” she said. 

Meanwhile, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA)’s director, planning, research and statistics, Dr. Bulama Garuba assured that the agency is working with the Kano State team and other stakeholders to address the ongoing diphtheria outbreak in the state. 

“Specific priority actions so far taken by the agency include collaboration with the NCDC and other stakeholders for the conduct of case investigation in the affected states/LGAs; Provision of technical support in collaboration with other stakeholders for the conduct of an integrated COVID-19 and routine immunisation in Kano, Lagos and other high-risk states to address the ongoing diphtheria outbreak in these states,” he explained. 

Garuba said that plans for the conduct of mass vaccination campaign in the identified population at risk for diphtheria in the high-risk states with pentavalent vaccine and other routine immunisation antigens.

“Also, there is an ongoing awareness creation and sensitisation of the public for parents and caregivers to take their eligible children for routine immunisation at the nearest health facility or vaccination site.

“Treatment of confirmed diphtheria cases with appropriate antibiotics are also ongoing in the affected states,” he explained. 

Racheal Abujah
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