An outbreak of diphtheria that claimed a four-year-old’s life in the Abuja suburb of Dei-Dei has sparked concerns over public health safety, given how easily the bacterium disease spreads among people.
The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) confirmed the outbreak of eight cases detected through samples tested at the National Reference Laboratory Gaduwa and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC).
Diphtheria is an infectious disease that manifests as sore throat and fever and spreads quickly through cough and sneezing, according to the World health Organisation.
“In severe cases, the bacteria produce a poison (toxin) that causes a thick grey or white patch at the back of the throat. This can block the airway making it hard to breathe or swallow and also create a barking cough. The neck may swell in part due to enlarged lymph nodes,” WHO’s profile of disease states.
“The poison may also get into the bloodstream causing complications that may include inflammation and damage of the heart muscle, inflammation of nerves, kidney problems, and bleeding problems due to low blood platelets.”
The infection is treated with the administration of a diphtheria antitoxin, administered through injection. Antibiotics are also given to eliminate bacteria and toxin production and to prevent transmission to others.
To avoid the disease, Yahaya Vatsa, executive secretary of the FCT Primary Health Care Board (PHCB) has urged people to get vaccinated, avoid crowds and unhygienic environments.
He recommended that children are fully vaccinated with three doses of the pentavalent vaccine.
The WHO prescribes that immunisation programmes should ensure that three booster doses of diphtheria vaccines are provided during childhood and adolescence as recent outbreaks in several countries show inadequate vaccination coverage.
A hexavalent vaccine that would require fewer vaccination sessions, allowing more children to receive all the recommended doses for protection against diseases such as diphtheria is also being developed.
UNICEF expects WHO prequalification of the first whole-cell pertussis hexavalent vaccine during the third quarter of 2023.
Data from the WHO show that 557 confirmed cases of diphtheria have been detected in Nigeria as of April 2023, affecting 21 of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
In December 2022, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) was notified of suspected diphtheria outbreaks in Kano and Lagos States.
From 14 May 2022 to 9 April 2023, 1439 suspected cases were reported, with 557 (39 percent) have been confirmed, including 73 deaths among the confirmed cases.
Nigeria has previously reported diphtheria outbreaks, with the most significant reported in 2011 affecting the rural areas of Borno State, in the country’s northeast.
“Symptoms of the disease include fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, red eyes, neck swelling, and difficulty in breathing. Diphtheria spreads easily through direct contact with infected persons, droplets from coughing or sneezing, and contact with contaminated clothing and objects. There is a need for hygiene and environmental sanitation.
“To reduce the risk of contracting the disease, FCT residents are, hereby, advised to ensure that their children are fully vaccinated with three doses of the Pentavalent vaccine as recommended in the national childhood immunisation schedule,” he said.