The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has said that the death toll from diphtheria disease across the country was now 34.
The NCDC announced via its official website on Sunday that the deaths were between December 2022 and early January 2023; from Lagos, Kano, Yobe and Osun states.
Lagos and Osun states are both in Nigeria’s South-West geopolitical zone, while Kano and Yobe states, respectively, are located in the North-West and the North-East.
“The fact that we are having a resurgence of diphtheria now suggests that there have been critical reductions in vaccination coverage among pockets of our population.
“This reduced level of population immunity has given rise to the cases that we are seeing.
“It is not a matter of diphtheria spreading from state to state, the bacteria that causes the disease is present everywhere in our environment.
“Any state where you find diphtheria now, you are likely to find that it will be associated with suboptimal vaccination coverage, either in general or in pockets of the population,” the NCDC said.
Earlier in document titled: Diphtheria Public Health Advisory Amidst Outbreak in Nigeria issued on Friday and signed by the NCDC Director-General, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, the agency explained that it “has responded to reports of diphtheria cases in Lagos and Kano states and is monitoring the situation in Osun and Yobe states where cases are now being picked up.”
The document continued: “In addition to clinically suspected cases, there have been laboratory-confirmed cases and the NCDC is working with State Ministries of Health and partners to enhance surveillance and response to the outbreak. This includes keeping the public informed on staying safe at home and in their communities.”
The NCDC noted that diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection caused by the bacterium called Corynebacterium species that affects the nose, throat and sometimes, skin of an individual.
The agency listed “people most at risk of contracting diphtheria” thus: children and adults who have not received any or a single dose of the pentavalent vaccine (a diphtheria toxoid-containing vaccine); people who live in a crowded environment; people who live in areas with poor sanitation; as well as healthcare workers and others who are exposed to suspected/confirmed cases of diphtheria.
Diphtheria, according to the NCDC, spreads easily between people through direct contact with infected people; droplets from coughing or sneezing; and contact with contaminated clothing and objects.
The agency informed that the onset of signs and symptoms usually starts after two – 10 of exposures to the bacteria, with the symptoms of diphtheria including fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, red eyes (conjunctivitis), neck swelling, and, in severe cases, a thick grey or white patch appears on the tonsils and/or at the back of the throat associated with difficulty breathing.
“The Nigeria childhood immunisation schedule recommends three (3) doses of pentavalent vaccine (diphtheria toxoid-containing vaccine) are recommended for children in the 6th-, 10th- and 14th -week of life,” the NCDC counselled.
“To reduce the risk of diphtheria,” the NCDC further advised thus:
“Parents should ensure that their children are fully vaccinated against diphtheria with three (3) doses of the pentavalent vaccine as recommended in the childhood immunisation schedule.
“Healthcare workers should maintain a high index of suspicion for diphtheria i.e., be vigilant and look out for symptoms of diphtheria.
“Individuals with signs and symptoms suggestive of diphtheria should isolate themselves and notify the local government area (LGA), state disease surveillance officer (DSNO) or the NCDC through our toll-free line (6232).
“Close contacts with a confirmed case of diphtheria should be closely monitored given antibiotics prophylaxis and started on diphtheria antitoxin treatment when indicated.
“All healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists, support staff etc.) with higher exposure to cases of diphtheria should be vaccinated against diphtheria.”
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