WHO Probes Suspected Yellow Fever Outbreaks in Delta, Enugu

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By Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has joined the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), and Delta and Enugu State Governments to investigate and respond to the recently reported deaths from unknown cause in some communities in the two states.

Speaking on the disease outbreak, WHO said investigations have revealed that parents, who bring their children for immunisation in the affected states, have always refused to receive yellow fever vaccination when offered by health workers.

“From the outset of the current outbreak, epidemiologists and other health professionals in WHO, NCDC and NPHCDA are working in support of the state public health teams or Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) that have been organised and trained in each of the affected states,” it said.

WHO stated that the outbreak investigation is ongoing in each state through the RRTs under the coordination of respective state Ministries of Health. Hospitals have been identified in each state and capacitated to manage patients who develop symptoms and complications.

In a statement issued by Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo of the WHO, he said Nigeria is one of the countries implementing Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics (EYE) strategy.

He said the strategy is being steered by WHO, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to protect at-risk populations, prevent international spread and contain outbreaks rapidly.

“As part of EYE strategy, Nigeria has developed a 10-year strategic plan for the elimination of yellow fever epidemics. Through this strategy, the country plans to vaccinate at least 80 percent of the targeted population in all the states by 2026,” Mulombo said.

He also said the Delta statewide proactive vaccination campaign was planned under the EYE strategy.

NCDC had in its preliminary findings attributed the deaths to an outbreak of Yellow fever.

The Ministries of Health of both states had notified the NCDC last week of cases with symptoms indicative of viral hemorrhagic fever.

NCDC added that three samples from Delta State and one from Enugu State tested positive for Yellow fever at Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital Laboratory in Edo State, and NCDC National Reference Laboratory, Abuja. It also stated that additional blood samples had similarly tested positive, hence, an outbreak of Yellow Fever was confirmed.

Yellow fever is caused by a virus spread through the bite of infected Aedes Aegypti mosquitos.

This type of mosquito bites during the day. Some of those infected develop serious symptoms, including high fever, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle pains, headache and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Some die from the complications of internal bleeding and organ failure.

Infection with Yellow fever virus is easily prevented by a vaccine that provides immunity for life.

Large epidemics of Yellow fever occur when infected people introduce the virus into heavily populated areas with high mosquito density and low vaccination coverage.

In Delta State, for example, the statement said all cases have no history of Yellow fever vaccination, including a one-year-old.

On his part, the Enugu State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Ikechukwu Emmanuel Obi, said the disease had been reported from Etteh-Uno and Umuopu communities in Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area. He indicated that the state RRT had done an outbreak investigation and identified those so far affected.

Obi promised to facilitate a reactive Yellow fever mass vaccination intervention for the affected and neighboring LGAs.

Meanwhile, sensitisation campaign is being implemented in the communities with reported cases on avoiding daytime mosquito bites, keeping home surroundings clean and clearing mosquito bleeding areas. People who develop symptoms are being encouraged to urgently seek medical help at the nearest health facilities.

Nigeria has been battling successive Yellow fever outbreaks since September 2017. The NPHCDA, with assistance from WHO, has been applying and obtaining donated vaccines through the International Coordinating Group (ICG) on Vaccine Provision, established in 1997, to manage the provision of emergency vaccine supplies to countries during major outbreaks to conduct reactive vaccination campaigns in response to outbreaks. This year, proactive vaccination campaigns were planned for most at risk states, including Delta. The Delta State campaign that was supposed to start by the end of November 2020 has now been brought forward to November 10, 2020, in the affected LGAs.