The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 123 cases of Diphtheria disease and 38 deaths in four states.
Dr. Pricilla Ibekwe, Head of Special Projects and Partnerships Unit at NCDC, disclosed this on Monday in Abuja.
She spoke 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 had been laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease.
She said the NCDC was working with State Ministries of Health and partners to enhance surveillance and response to the outbreak.
Ibekwe said based on the latest reports from states shared with the agency as of January 22, about 123 confirmed cases and 38 deaths were recorded in four states.
She gave a state-by-state breakdown as follows: Kano – 100 confirmed cases and 32 deaths; Lagos – five cases and three deaths; Yobe – 17 cases and three deaths; while Osun reported a case and zero death.
Ibekwe said that Diphtheria was a serious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium called Corynebacterium species affecting the nose, throat and sometimes skin of an individual.
According to her, Diphtheria spreads easily between people through direct contact with infected people’s droplets from coughing or sneezing, and contact with contaminated clothing and objects.
She added: “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.”
Ibekwe said 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 in breathing,” she said.
She said complications from diphtheria included airway blockage, damage to the heart muscle, nerve damage and kidney failure.
However, for some people, respiratory diphtheria can lead to death.
She said the agency was collaborating with the UK Health Security Agency to organise a five-day workshop on enhancing laboratory diagnosis of diphtheria in Nigeria.
Ibekwe said the workshop was 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,” she said.
Ibekwe said the agency had 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.
She disclosed that to reduce the risk of diphtheria, the NCDC had published a public health advisory, accessible on its website, educating Nigerians on risk factors and offering advice, to reduce the risk of diphtheria.
She said: “Such advices included 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).”
Similarly, Dr. Bulama Garuba, National Primary Health Care Development Agency’s Director, Planning, Research and Statistics, said the Agency was working with the Kano State team and other stakeholders to address the ongoing diphtheria outbreak in the state.
Garuba said: “Specific priority actions so far taken by the Agency include the 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.”
Garuba said there were also 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.
He added: “There is also 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.”