On July 3, 2023, Dr Sadiq Abdulrahman, the director of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Public Health Department, announced the diphtheria outbreak in some parts of Abuja. And there have been 8 suspected cases and the unfortunate death of a four-year-old child. 

This diphtheria outbreak started earlier this year in January, with multiple cases being confirmed in Lagos, Yobe, Katsina, Osun, Cross River, and Kaduna. So far, at least 80 deaths have also been recorded. 

To prevent the further spread of this disease across neighbouring states, the FCT Public Health Department is set to implement state border surveillance while advising residents to take their personal hygiene very seriously. 

What exactly is Diphtheria?

The bacterial strain Corynebacterium diphtheriae, which releases toxins into the bloodstream, is what causes diphtheria, an infectious disease. This illness typically affects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat in infected people, resulting in difficulties swallowing and breathing. 

Diphtheria’s fatality rate is up to 20%. As you progress through reading this article, you’ll learn more about its spread, preventive measures, and treatment. 

Unfortunately, this disease is contagious and spreads by:

  • Respiratory droplets, i.e. if you’re sneezed or coughed on by an infected person 
  • Secretions: being directly exposed to the saliva or mucus of an infected person
  • Contaminated personal items: people in the same household as an infected person are also at risk as personal items like towels or tissues may be contaminated. 

What are the symptoms to look out for?

Diphtheria has an incubation period of 2-5 days, and in some cases, 10 days, after which symptoms will appear. Some common signs are:

  • Weakness
  • Sore throat and hoarseness
  • Swallowing and breathing difficulties
  • Appetite loss
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • A thick grey or white patch at the back of the throat. 
Source: Vanguard News

It’s advised to see a doctor immediately after exposure to diphtheria, as it can lead to complications such as kidney failure, paralysis, nerve damage, heart damage (myocarditis), and death. 

Is there any treatment for this disease?

Being a bacterial infection, it can be treated with antibiotics to eradicate and stop the spread of the disease. However, vaccines are one of the most effective ways of combating and preventing this illness. 

The diphtheria vaccine is one of the childhood vaccinations, and it’s given at different stages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years of age. Booster shots are also given at around 11 to 12 years old to maintain immunity to this disease. 

Also, an important prevention method is maintaining good personal and environmental hygiene. 

What has the government done so far?

In response to this situation, the FCT Health and Human Services Secretariat has initiated the Diphtheria Incident Management System (IMS), which involves case finding by sample collection and community awareness programmes. Residents are also encouraged to visit any of the 400 vaccine outlets within the state. Rivers State is also calling for the statewide vaccination of children, and the State Emergency Response Team has been placed on red alert.

Also, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has deployed Rapid Response Teams (RRT) and the Diphtheria IMS to affected states. Physicians and scientists are also being trained, along with the supply of laboratory and sample collection tools nationwide. 

Hopefully, this bacterial infection will be contained as soon as possible before it escalates into a nationwide epidemic. 


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