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Diphtheria Kills One in Abuja; Rivers State on Red Alert

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Tuesday, 4 July 2023 17:15

By John Emmanuel @johneywings and Martha Okere-Nkem @Okeremartha

The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has confirmed the outbreak of the deadly diphtheria disease in the nation’s capital after it claimed the life of a four-year-old boy out of eight reported cases.

The Director, FCT Public Health department, Sadiq Abdulrahman, who announced this at a press briefing, said information available to it confirmed that the disease was imported from neighbouring Niger State. 

He disclosed that two weeks ago, the department was alerted of a possible outbreak of the disease in Dei-Dei, with eight suspected cases reported.

According to Abdulrahman, “We got information from a community within the FCT of about 8 suspected cases which triggered our team to pick some samples which were taken to the National Reference Laboratory Gaduwa and the NCDC. 

“As at Friday afternoon (last week), the results came out. Out of the eight suspected cases, one came out positive.

“As we are all aware, precisely in January this year, a national alert was sent out on the outbreak of Diphtheria in about three states, Lagos, Kano, and Ondo respectively.  

"That triggered a national response and the NCDC, which is the flagship of disease outbreak and response in the country, sent out a letter to all the states of the FCT.” 

The Director explained that the department is collaborating with neighbouring states to checkmate the further spread of the disease from contagious states through border surveillance as he advised residents to take their personal hygiene seriously. 

For his part, the Executive Secretary, Primary Health Care Board, Isa Vatsa explained that diphtheria is caused by bacteria. He added that its symptoms include “fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, red eyes, neck swelling, and difficulty breathing.”

He also explained that “Diphtheria spreads easily between people through direct contact with infected people, droplets from coughing or sneezing and contact with contaminated clothing and objects, thereby underscoring the importance of hygiene and environmental sanitation in the prevention.”

Vatsa advised residents to visit the over 400 vaccine outlets "to reduce the risk of contracting the disease.”

He also said “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. 

"The FCTA through the Primary Health Care Board has concluded plans to revaccinate all children 14yrs and below in the affected community with the appropriate vaccines, irrespective of their previous vaccination status.

 “There will be an RI intensification exercise across the 6 Area Councils with increased access to the Routine Immunization services beyond the over 400 Health Care Facilities offering immunization in the FCT with the regular conduct of outreach services, taking the vaccines to where people live and work,” he added. 

Rivers State Emergency Response Team on Red Alert 

 In Rivers State, an Immunization Officer, Joseph Urang is advocating for every child to be vaccinated. Dr. Urang made the call following the outbreak of Diphtheria in Abuja. 

He tells our correspondent that although there are no threats of the disease in the state, the emergency response team of the Ministry of Health is on alert. 

“We have not really seen the threat here (Rivers State). Once we get that threat, then obviously we will get that job done. And of course, we are on red alert looking out for any outbreak of diphtheria in the state and once that happens, we will respond almost immediately,” he said.

Dr. Urang also said routine immunization coverage in the state has now been extended to children under two years old following the introduction of the measles vaccine. 

“If any child under two years old comes to any of our health facilities and has not taken the pentavalent vaccine which contains antigen against diphtheria, they will be given that particular vaccine. 

“But those who are outside that age range, we need what we call ‘Catch up Campaign’ to catch up with those who have weaning immunity or those who are not vaccinated within that age bracket as at that time or we do an outbreak response pending on the situation that presents itself.” 

He urged mothers with children under two years to visit the nearest primary health center to get their children vaccinated. 

Diphtheria is a vaccine-preventable disease. Children under one year are given the Pentavalent vaccine which protects against five major diseases including diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type B


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