By Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
At least 13 suspected cases of the new Monkey Pox viral disease were being treated at an isolation ward at the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri, THISDAY learnt on Friday.
This is as the Rivers State government yesterday night dismissed rumours that the dreaded monkey pox virus had spread to a local government in the state, clarifying that there was no reported case in its domain.
The Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Chike Princewill, was earlier yesterday quoted of having said that three cases of the virus were reported in the Port Harcourt metropolis. The cases were said to have been discovered on Thursday night at Rumoulumeni, Eneka and Psychiatric Road areas of Port Harcourt. But in a statement yesterday night, Princewill denied the reports and said the suspected cases had been ruled out as they were mere severe symptom of other ailments.
It was also gathered that in Bayelsa, over 50 persons were being actively traced at different locations in the state following the outbreak of the disease which had also infected a medical doctor who came in contact with the patients.
However, the State Government said yesterday that it had inaugurated a 12-member rapid response team comprising top medical professionals to prevent the spread of the disease, which has assumed an a epidemic proportion.
The State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Ebimitula Etebu, who inaugurated the committee , noted that besides the 12 members, which make up the core team, other sub-teams to carry out contact tracing of patients had also been established.
He said: ”At present, as we speak, we have 13 suspected cases at different stages of recovery following treatment at the makeshift isolation ward at NDUTH, Okolobiri.
“There are also over 50 persons being actively followed at differently located places in the state. And this is in order to quickly detect any new cases following exposure to suspected cases.
“The state Ministry of Health, with the support of the international community led by the World Health Organisation, international partners, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control have since embarked on enlightenment campaigns.
“Active disease surveillance has also been carried out. Case management and other sundry measures have also been carried out in a bid to halt the spread of the disease in the state”.
While stressing that there was no need for panic and that government had taken every possible action to curtail the disease, Etebu said the situation could get out of hand if critical measures like the government was taking were not quickly put in place.
“And the essence is to allay the general public of the fact that there is no need to panic; it does not call for any fear. The ministry and the government of the state are on top of the situation.
”We have carried out all necessary measures. That is why we have been able to contain it so far and today we are just symbolically giving the opportunity to the press to ensure that we do not want speculation,” he added.
He explained that the disease was transmitted when a person comes in contact with the virus from animals or materials that were contaminated with the virus, noting that the virus entered the body through broken skin that was usually not visible to the naked eye.
He also said the virus could enter the body through respiratory tract or the mucus in the eyes, in the nose and in the mouth.
According to the Commissioner, “human to human transmission occurs through droplet infection with direct contact with body fluids or lesions or materials that are in direct contact with contaminated clothing”.
He urged the people to maintain simple hygiene of washing hands when they touch animals whether dead or alive.
“We are telling the public that if you see anybody that has developed an unusual rash that is similar to chicken pox rash or small pox, immediately contact us or advise the person to go to the nearest health facility,” he advised.
The Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Markson Iworiso, urged citizens to report all cases of unusual rash to the medical facilities for necessary action or call two dedicated lines, 08066987752, 08035474676, to report cases of the suspected virus.
The Chief Medical Director, NDUTH where 11 cases of the virus were being handled, Prof. Dimie Ogoina, said that a doctor who was infected and an 11-year-old had been treated and discharged.
The CMD, who said others were responding to treatment, emphasised the need for awareness creation in the bid to effectively arrest the disease and appealed to the media for cooperation.
“We are fully mobilised and we have provided sufficient awareness among the staff of the hospital.
”Unfortunately, one of our doctors contracted the virus at the early stage of the outbreak before it was fully recognised. But I am happy to inform you that the doctor has been cared for, treated and has fully recovered and he is doing well.
“We have also successfully treated and managed an 11-year-old index case who has recovered and is doing well’,’ he noted.
The first index case was said to have come from Agbura in Yenagoa, where a resident reportedly killed and ate monkey meat before developing huge rashes bigger than small pox.
However, Rivers State said considering their proximity to Bayelsa State where the virus had been reported and the high volume of traffic of people between both states, Rivers state Government had taken proactive and preventive measures to contain the disease if it finds its way into the state.
Princewill called on the people of the state, including those resident in Rivers to always wash their hands, especially after contact with affected persons.
He expressed the need for the people to avoid eating uncooked and poorly cooked meat and maintain clean environment.
The commissioner noted that suspected cases had already been ruled out as cases of monkey pox, maintaining that not one incident of monkey pox has been recorded in the state.
One of the suspected cases, he said, was a case of rash that became infected.
He disclosed that the isolation centre in Oduoha in Emohua Local Government Area had been reactivated while the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital had been placed on alert.
“Suspected cases have been ruled out. We have reactivated the isolation centres at Oduoha in Emuoha. We don’t have any case of monkey pox.
“We have been taking proactive and preventive measures. We are already on red alert as we are watching 24 hours vehicles coming into the state.
“We are calling on the people of the state, including those resident in the state to always wash their hands and keep their environment clean.
He gave 0906227899 and 08033124314 as mobile phone numbers to call in the case of any emergency.