An infectious diseases expert, Dr. Iorhen Akase has said that intensifying awareness and vaccination campaigns remain crucial to ending the outbreak of Diphtheria infection in Nigeria, noting that the outbreak indicates that more children need to be given the DTC (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine.
According to the expert, more emphasis should be on immunisation as the socio-economic differences make it impossible for everyone to receive the right nutrition, and breastfeeding.
He also called on the government to intensify the awareness and uptake of the DTC vaccine.
Recently, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control alerted Nigerians on the outbreak of diphtheria among children in four states of the federation.
According to the advisory by the Director General of NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, the outbreak of the bacterial infection has killed at least 35 persons in the country with only Kano state responsible for 25 deaths.
Diphtheria is a serious infection caused by strains of a bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae that produce toxins. It can lead to difficulty breathing, heart rhythm problems, and even death.
Like other viral infections, Diphtheria spread from person to person through respiratory droplets, like from coughing or sneezing.
According to the American Centre for Disease Control, the symptoms associated with this disease are mild fever, weakness, sore throat, and swollen glands of the neck which start after two to 10 days of exposure to the harmful bacteria.
The CDC explained that the bacteria produce a toxin that kills healthy tissues in the respiratory system. Within two to three days, the dead tissue forms a thick, grey coating that can build up in the throat or nose. This thick coating can cover tissues in the nose, tonsils, voice box, and throat, making it difficult to breathe and swallow and if the toxin gets into the bloodstream, it can cause heart, nerve, and kidney damage, CDC said.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, the consultant infectious diseases physician at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital said when vaccine-preventable diseases come up, it is clear that the vaccination uptake in that community has been compromised.
He noted that Diphtheria is a pituitary disease and that “anytime you have those kinds of outbreaks it is clear that vaccination efforts have been compromised and immunity against that organism has been compromised.”
He urged the government to educate Nigerians on the need to get vaccinated, adding that the government should also do more to increase the uptake of the DPT vaccine in areas of the outbreak while ensuring immediate treatment of the spotted cases in the communities.
Akase noted that while nutrition and breastfeeding can help beef up immunity in children, who are most at risk of the disease, the most dependable way of stemming the spread is by vaccination as it is the only trusted means of eradication of the disease.
He noted that vaccination provides herd immunity for the less covered in the community so they do not become infected in the long run.
He further called for the strengthening of primary health care services, immunisation services, and vaccination efforts in the affected places.
“Strengthen them, identify the cases, and treat them so those infected do not die from respiratory failure. The community should be aware. The efforts to reduce and stop the spread of Diphtheria can be divided into government, community, and individual.
“At the community level, they should be aware of the outbreak and know the symptoms so they can act quickly when they see it. At the family level, those who are not vaccinated should be vaccinated.
“It is not something that should cause panic because this is not an organism that is not already in the environment. What differentiates people is whether they have immunity or not,” he said.