Ebola Disease Not In Nigeria, But…
— April 14, 2014
The deadly Ebola outbreak in Guinea and its quick spread to Liberia and some other West African countries has set Nigeria on edge. The high fatality associated with this disease forced the World Health Organisation (WHO) to issue a red alert in the West Africa sub region. WINIFRED OGBEBO, in this piece, examines the situation on ground and writes that Nigerians are still not safe with Dengue fever.
The death of a 15-year old female undergraduate in Edo State last week of symptoms rumoured to be similar to those of the deadly Ebola virus disease and at a time the disease is wreaking havoc in some West African countries sent shivers down the spine of many Nigerians. The anxiety over this disease is understandable, going by its frightening record of high fatality.
For avoidance of doubt, the Ebola virus was said to be first associated with an outbreak of 318 cases of a hemorrhagic disease in Zaire in 1976. Of the 318 cases, 280 of them not only died, but died quickly. That same year, 284 people in Sudan also became infected with the virus with 156 dying also in quick succession.
In the recent outbreak, as at March 31, the number of confirmed and unconfirmed cases in Guinea has reached 122, with 80 deaths. In Liberia, there have been four deaths in a total of eight cases and in Sierra Leone two, both of whom died. All the victims were reported to have tested positive to the same species of Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever, namely Zaire ebolavirus
Just like the dreaded HIV which has defied cure since its emergence, Ebola virus too has no known cure. However, the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Khaliru Alhassan who addressed journalists last week in Abuja, denied any outbreak of Ebola disease in Nigeria. He said, “As a follow up to the report in a section of the media of an outbreak of Ebola disease in Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Health wishes to inform the general public that laboratory investigation has revealed that it is a case of Dengue Haemorrhage Fever and not that of Ebola Haemorrhage as erroneously reported”
According to the minister, reports on the disease were misconceived, as there are no cases of Ebola disease in Nigeria, pointing out that Dengue fever was wrongly taken as Ebola disease.
But as good as this may sound, it should be noted that even Dengue fever, according to experts, also has no known treatment or vaccine for now. It can cause severe flu-like symptoms and in severe cases can be fatal. Drawing comparism between the two deadly diseases, the director-general, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Prof. Abdul Nasidi, who said Dengue fever is not as deadly as Ebola, explained that “Ebola kills mostly between 60-90 per cent of those who acquire it whereas with Dengue, the case of fatality is between one and two per cent but nevertheless, people can be unlucky and it can grab them as it happens.”
The health minister of state said Dengue fever is caused by a virus named Dengue Fever Virus (DFV) which is transmitted by mosquitoes, mostly in urban and semi-urban areas.
According to him, the activities of the mosquitoes (Aedes albopictus) that transmit this virus are being closely monitored nationwide by the Arbovirus Research Centre of the Federal Ministry of Health based in Enugu.
He said, “the symptoms of the disease include, headache, fever, exhaustion, severe muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes and rashes. Other signs of Denger fever include bloody gums, bloody diarrhoea, bleeding from the nose and mouth, severe pain behind the eyes, red palms and soles differentiate it from malaria.” At the outset of the disease, the minister said it mimicks malaria and is often mistakenly diagnosed as malaria.
As one of the ways of avoiding this disease, the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has warned hunters to guide against coming in contact with bush meat killed during hunting and Nigerians to be extra-ordinarily careful with eating bush and smoked meat, as the Ebola virus could be contacted through indiscriminate eating of smoked meat.
Nasidi noted, “we have enhanced our surveillance activities on areas of high probability; areas where they eat bush meat, areas where you have a lot of bats and other tiny animals.”
He stressed that those who eat bush meat don’t get the disease, but those who hunt and process the meat as well as those who eat smoked meat are also prone to getting the virus.
According to the NCDC boss, it takes between 2- 21 days for Ebola virus to manifest in a patient. He said government through the NCDC had swung into action to guard against the disease by intensifying its surveillance activities.
He added that the nation’s health posts at the ports and medical centres had been put on high alert to screen travellers from countries with confirmed Ebola fever occurrence.
“Nigerian citizens travelling to these countries are advised to be careful and should report any illness with the above symptoms to the nearest health facility,” he further counselled.
Though the NCDC boss reassured that the country has an alert and surveillance system in place, this has not in any way allayed the fear of many Nigerians considering our population and the penchant of our people for travelling.
He said, “we can manage Dengue virus even though it doesn’t have cure too like Ebola and it doesn’t have vaccine but it’s not as deadly. Proper management can save the life of a patient. That is why we are going to strengthen our surveillance now.”
Speaking on the nature of the surveillance at the ports, Nasidi said, “at the ports, they have a protocol that they use when they are on red alert and they use the protocol first and foremost because we don’t have the machines at the border. Most of the time, we rely on a patient being ill. Any patient that lands with fever or whatever, they will quarantine him until they make sure that he doesn’t have any of these symptoms.
“Secondly, we do handout right from the country of departure, telling them to report to us if there’s any patient that is sick on board. All the airlines too are alerted. They know that any patient that shows signs of being ill on arrival are always screened and isolated. So the ports here have their international air regulation protocols that they use,” he added.
Nasidi said that the preventive measures for Ebola are different from those for Dengue fever. According to him, because Dengue virus is transmitted by mosquito, how one protects himself from malaria is the same way he protects himself from Dengue fever.
“Mosquitoes that can transmit Dengue bite mostly in the evenings. So you can protect yourself if you can sleep under the long lasting insecticide-treated nets, spray insecticide in your home and keep your compound and environment neat,” he advised.
He said mosquitoes which transmit the virus also multiply in fresh water, especially water gathered in containers, small drums or tyres around the house. “So when it rains, it’s good to drain trapped water from all these containers or tyres. So part of the way to keep your environment clean is to make sure you don’t have all these containers or small tyres around,” he further said.
For Ebola, the NCDC DG said the centre was enhancing its surveillance in areas of high probability like forest areas where they hunt bush meat, areas where there are lots of bats and other tiny animals.
“In this area and in this moment, if we see anybody at all, whether it’s malaria or not malaria, if you have fever, don’t treat at home to make sure that you don’t have any of the Ebola that we can pick early and manage,” he added. Leadership