The diphtheria outbreak in Abuja: what you need to know

Given how quickly the bacterial disease spreads among individuals, a diphtheria outbreak that took the life of a four-year-old in the Abuja suburb of Dei-Dei has raised worries about public health safety.

Eight cases were confirmed as an epidemic by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) after samples were analysed at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) and National Reference Laboratory Gaduwa.

According to the World Health Organisation, diphtheria is an infectious disease that causes fever and sore throat and spreads swiftly by coughing and sneezing.

Toxin produced by the bacteria in severe cases results in a thick, grey or white patch at the back of the throat. This can obstruct the airway, making it difficult to swallow or breathe, and it can also cause a barking cough. According to the WHO’s disease profile, swollen lymph nodes may contribute to the neck swelling.

The poison may also enter the bloodstream, resulting in symptoms such as heart muscle inflammation and damage, nerve irritation, renal issues, and bleeding issues brought on by low blood platelets.

A diphtheria antitoxin, delivered intravenously, is used to treat the infection. Additionally, antibiotics are administered to stop the growth of bacteria and toxins and to stop the spread of infection.

Yahaya Vatsa, executive secretary of the FCT Primary Health Care Board (PHCB), has advised people to get immunised, stay away from large groups, and keep their surroundings clean in order to prevent the disease.

He advised giving children three doses of the pentavalent vaccine as a complete course of vaccination.

Due to recent outbreaks in some countries and insufficient vaccination rates, the WHO recommends that immunisation programmes guarantee that children and adolescents receive three booster doses of the diphtheria vaccine during childhood and adolescence.

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Additionally, a hexavalent vaccine is being developed that would require fewer immunisation sessions and enable more kids to obtain all the advised doses for protection against illnesses like diphtheria.

The first whole-cell pertussis hexavalent vaccination is anticipated to get WHO prequalification in the third quarter of 2023, according to UNICEF.

According to WHO data, 21 of Nigeria’s 36 states as well as the Federal Capital Territory had reported 557 confirmed cases of diphtheria as of April 2023.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) was informed of possible diphtheria outbreaks in the states of Kano and Lagos in December 2022.

1439 suspected cases were recorded between May 14 and April 9, 2023; of them, 557 (or 39%) have been confirmed, with 73 deaths among the confirmed cases.

Nigeria has previously recorded diphtheria outbreaks, with the worst one occurring in 2011 and hitting Borno State’s rural districts in the northeast of the country.

“The illness manifests as a fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, red eyes, neck swelling, and breathing difficulties. Direct contact with sick people, droplets from coughing or sneezing, and coming into contact with contaminated objects and clothing are all effective ways to spread diphtheria. Hygiene and environmental sanitation are necessary.

According to the national childhood vaccination schedule, FCT residents are hereby encouraged to make sure their children receive three doses of the Pentavalent vaccine to lower the chance of contracting the disease.

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