DIRECTOR-GENERAL of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said Nigeria had 222 suspected cases of Yellow Fever, 19 confirmed cases and 76 deaths reported in three states – Bauchi, Delta and Enugu as of November 13.
Dr Ihekweazu said in response to the spike in cases in the three states, the first step had been taken to establish the cause of disease through the agency’s national reference laboratory, even as the NCDC had deployed a Rapid Response Team to Delta and Enugu states to support outbreak investigation and response activities.
Ihekweazu, who stated that the risk of Yellow Fever remains in the country, however, urged Nigerians to take responsibility for their health and of those around them as well as get vaccinated. He added that parents should ensure their children receive the free Yellow Fever vaccine as part of routine immunisation schedule and those in doubt of their vaccination status should visit a health facility to request for the vaccine.
According to him, “the government has committed to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemic (EYE) strategy to ensure all have access to the vaccine against the disease and that we do not record outbreaks in our communities.”
He further asked that Nigerians should refrain from referring to the disease as “strange disease.”
According to him, “to properly respond to an infectious disease outbreak, we must understand its cause. We have now established and confirmed through laboratory testing that the increase in cases and deaths in some communities in Bauchi, Delta and Enugu states are as a result of Yellow Fever virus.
“There is nothing strange about the disease, which was first detected in Nigeria over 40 years ago. We know how the virus is transmittable and we have an effective vaccine that provides immunity for life.”
Dr Ihekweazu urged Nigerians to keep their environments clean in order to prevent breeding of Aedes mosquitoes which spread Yellow Fever virus as well as other infectious diseases.
He also urged them to sleep under insecticide-treated nets to prevent mosquito bites and if feeling ill, they should seek immediate medical attention at a hospital.
Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, stated that records from the three states (Delta, Enugu and Bauchi) on the ongoing outbreak showed the people involved have never taken the vaccine.
According to him, for many people, a single dose of Yellow Fever vaccine provided life-long protection and a booster dose was not needed.
He, however, said travellers going to areas with outbreaks might consider taking a booster dose if it had been more than 10 years they took the Yellow Fever vaccine. “Yellow Fever vaccine is recommended for persons nine months and older, who live or are travelling to areas at risk of Yellow Fever in Africa and South America. So, it is not part of the WHO’s Eliminating Yellow fever Epidemics (EYE) strategy that a campaign should be conducted in the country every 10 years,” he said.
Dr Shuaib, however, declared that the country started routine Yellow Fever vaccination for all children from nine months since 2009.
NPHCDA’s executive secretary stated that efforts were ongoing to educate Nigerians on the need to avail themselves of the vaccination, especially in the states at risk of the disease.
Professor Oyewale Tomori, a virologist and onetime member of the scientific and technical advisory group on geographical Yellow Fever risk mapping, linked the upsurge in cases of Yellow Fever to Nigeria’s vaccination coverage for children and many people not vaccinated against Yellow Fever being part of the national routine immunisation schedule.
Tomori stated that the mass Yellow Fever campaign from 2012 to 2016 to vaccinate about 104 million Nigerians, which had not been completed, had left many people without enough antibodies against the disease in the country. According to him, “we don’t have enough people with antibodies against the disease. So, expect more Yellow Fever cases to occur until we complete the mass campaign.”
Oyo State Health Commissioner, Dr Bashir Bello, who was part of the health workers involved in Yellow Fever mass vaccination, stated that Nigeria, being one of the countries prone to Yellow Fever, was supposed to have mass vaccination every 10 years. He said a gap in the vaccination was after the last attack of Yellow Fever which started in northern Nigeria in 1985, had contributed to the upsurge in cases, as Nigeria should have repeated the mass vaccination in 2007.
Dr Bello, however, stated that mass vaccination for Yellow Fever is to commence very soon in Oyo State for individuals below 44 years, adding that already, micro-planning and community awareness had started.
Former president, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, Dr Toyosi Raheem, said Nigeria’s reliance on imported vaccines was a challenge in its vaccination programme, because its human vaccine facility in Lagos was shut down.
Dr Raheem declared that imported vaccines were fraught with dangers and less effective because the in-country strains of Yellow Fever virus circulating would be different from strains of the Yellow Fever virus used in producing the imported vaccine. Yellow Fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes.
The “yellow” in the name refers to the jaundice that affects some patients. Symptoms of Yellow Fever include fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. A small proportion of patients who contract the virus develop severe symptoms and approximately half of those die within seven to 10 days.
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