The Giving Capsules:  Beware of most recent disease outbreaks as the festive season draws near


I remember vividly before COVID-19 hit our shores: we were all minding our business until COVID-19 was declared a global health emergency. As we move around and make plans to end the year by God’s grace – let’s be aware of the most recent disease outbreaks as the festive season draws near.  Just as the exchange rate will expose the economy when the fundamentals are weak, the same way global health emergencies like pandemics will expose us when our immunity is weak. Be mindful of your health.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the most recent disease outbreaks including Diphtheria were reported in Nigeria and Guinea on September 13, 2023 and October 18, 2023 respectively. Dengue was reported in Bangladesh on August 11, 2023; and in Chad on October 16, 2023. Nipah Virus Infection in India was reported on October 3, 2023. The suspected triple outbreak of typhoid fever, shigellosis and cholera in Congo was reported on September 21, 2023.

Botulism in France was reported on September 20, 2023. Legionellosis in Poland was reported on September 14, 2023. Influenza A (H1N1) variant virus in the Netherlands was reported on September 13, 2023. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Saudi Arabia was reported on August 29, 2023.  Measles in Chile was reported on August 23, 2023. Influenza A (H1N2) v in the United States of America was reported on August 11, 2023. Circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) in Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania were both reported on July 28, 2023. Guillain-Barré Syndrome in Peru was reported on July 25, 2023. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in the United Arab Emirates was reported on July 24, 2023 – and the list goes on.

Dengue is a viral infection caused by the dengue virus (DENV), transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. About half of the world’s population is now at risk of dengue, with an estimated 100-400 million infections occurring each year. Dengue is found in tropical and sub-tropical climates worldwide, mostly in urban and semi-urban areas. The incidence of dengue has grown dramatically around the world in recent decades, with cases reported to WHO increasing from 505,430 cases in 2000 to 5.2 million in 2019.

In terms of the Global Burden of Disease region, dengue remained chiefly in South Asia and Southeast Asia; but the large increase in ASIR mainly appeared in East Asia, high-income Asia Pacific and high-income North America. While many DENV infections are asymptomatic or produce only mild illness, DENV can occasionally cause more severe cases and even death, as put forward by the WHO fact sheet on dengue. Prevention and control of dengue depends on vector control. There is no specific treatment for dengue/severe dengue, and early detection and access to proper medical care greatly lower fatality rates of severe dengue.

According to the WHO fact sheet on these, the Nipah virus (NiV) is a zoonotic virus – meaning it is transmitted from animals to humans. The natural host of Nipah virus is the fruit-bat of the Pteropodidae family. The virus can also be transmitted through contaminated food or directly between people. In humans, Nipah virus infection can cause a range of illnesses from asymptomatic (subclinical) infection to acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis. The case fatality rate is estimated at 40% to 75%, and this rate can vary by outbreak depending on local capabilities for epidemiological surveillance and clinical management. The virus can also cause severe disease in animals such as pigs, resulting in significant economic losses for farmers.

Although Nipah virus has caused only a few known outbreaks in Asia, it infects a wide range of animals and causes severe disease and death in people – making it a public health concern. The first recognised outbreak of Nipah virus was in 1999 in Malaysia, and it has since been identified periodically in eastern India and nearly annually in Bangladesh. Other regions may be at risk for infection, as evidence of the virus has been found in several bat species in a number of countries – including Cambodia, Ghana, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Thailand. There is currently no treatment or vaccine available for either people or animals. The primary treatment for humans is supportive care. The World Health Organisation has indicated an urgent need for accelerated research and development for the Nipah virus.

Considering diphtheria is reported in Nigeria, which is just next door, it’s worth getting informed about it. Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It usually affects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. The most common symptom is a thick, gray coating on the throat and tonsils. Other symptoms of respiratory diphtheria include swollen neck lymph nodes, discomfort or illness, difficulty swallowing, fever, sore throat, coughs and wheezing, and it may cause respiratory failure. Diphtheria can also affect the skin, causing ulcers covered by a gray thick membrane, redness, swelling and pain. It is rare in developed countries and can be prevented through vaccination. If untreated, the infection may damage vital organs such as the kidney, heart and nervous system.

Diphtheria is transmitted through airborne droplets and contaminated personal or household items such as respiratory droplets from person to person through coughing or sneezing, coming in contact with an infected object, or coming into contact with skin lesions of an infected person. The complications of Diphtheria may include inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), which can potentially cause death and damage to the nerves – possibly leading to paralysis of the limbs, eye-muscles and diaphragm – causing respiratory failure. Prevention methods include vaccination, and antibiotics can be given as preventive therapy to people who have come into close contact with infected patients.

Botulism is a rare but serious bacterial infection caused by Clostridium botulinum. It usually affects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. The most common symptom is a thick gray coating on the throat and tonsils. Other symptoms of respiratory diphtheria include swollen neck lymph nodes, discomfort or illness, difficulty swallowing, fever, sore throat, coughs and wheezing, and it may cause respiratory failure. If untreated, the infection may damage vital organs such as the kidney, heart, and nervous system. The complications of Diphtheria may include inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) which can potentially cause death, and damage to the nerves which can lead to paralysis of the limbs, eye muscles, and diaphragm causing respiratory failure.

Legionellosis is a collective term for diseases caused by the Legionella bacteria, including the most serious – Legionnaires’ disease, as well as the similar but less serious conditions of Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead fever. Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia, and everyone is susceptible to infection. It’s caused by a bacterium known as Legionella. Most people catch Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling the bacteria from water or soil. Older adults, smokers and people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to Legionnaires’ disease. The bacterium Legionella pneumophila is responsible for most cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

Outdoors, legionella bacteria survive in soil and water but rarely cause infections. However, legionella bacteria can multiply in water systems made by humans, such as air-conditioners. Most people become infected when they inhale microscopic water droplets containing legionella bacteria. This might be from the spray from a shower, faucet or whirlpool, or water from the ventilation system in a large building. Legionnaires’ disease usually develops two to 10 days after exposure to legionella bacteria.

It frequently begins with symptoms like headache, muscle-aches and fever that may be 104 F (40 C) or higher. By the second or third day, you’ll develop other signs and symptoms that can include coughs (which might bring up mucus and sometimes blood), shortness of breath, chest pain, gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and confusion or other mental changes. Although prompt treatment with antibiotics usually cures Legionnaires’ disease, some people continue to have problems after treatment. There is currently no vaccine available for Legionnaires’ disease.

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system. The exact cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome is unknown, but it is often associated with autoimmunity and bacterial infection, most commonly campylobacter – a bacteria often found in undercooked poultry. It can also be associated with respiratory or gastrointestinal viral infections such as influenza virus, HIV and Zika virus. The symptoms of GBS include varying degrees of weakness or tingling sensations in the legs and hands, usually in an ascending or descending fashion.

Other symptoms may include difficulty controlling bowel and bladder functions, inability to walk or climb stairs, inability to maintain steadiness while walking, and inability to feel textures, heat, pain and other sensations in the limbs. If untreated for a prolonged period, it may lead to complications such as inability to use certain muscles – causing difficulty with eye or facial movements, including speaking, chewing or swallowing. Severe nerve pain, almost total paralysis, difficulty breathing, high or low blood pressure and rapid heart rate can also occur. Long-lasting weakness, fatigue or numbness can persist even after treatment.

Diagnosis involves physical examination and tests to rule out other causes, physical examination for reflexes. Spinal tap (lumbar puncture): A small amount of fluid is withdrawn from the lower back of the spine, and this fluid is further observed for typical signs of this condition. Nerve conduction velocity (NCV): to check for the speed at which signals pass through the nerves. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis: to check for infections and/or proteins that affect the brain and nerves. Electromyography (EMG): to assess nerve activity in the muscles and check for muscle weakness. There is no known cure for GBS. Treatments aim at managing the symptoms and improving quality of life.

The suspected triple outbreak of typhoid fever, shigellosis, and cholera; Influenza A (H1N1) variant virus, Measles and poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) appear familiar.  Consider these ways to protect yourself from infectious diseases:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and managing stress.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick or have symptoms of an illness.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
  • Stay home if you are sick.

It’s important to note that these steps can help reduce the risk of contracting infectious diseases but may not completely eliminate the risk. If you experience any symptoms of an illness, it’s important to see a doctor right away and to boost your immune system naturally:

  • Get enough sleep: Inadequate or poor quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness. Adults should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep each night, while teens need 8–10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours.
  • Eat more whole plant foods: Whole plant foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens. The antioxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by combatting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body at high levels.
  • Eat more healthy fats: Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, may boost your body’s immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune system cells.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise can help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways, reducing your chance of getting a cold, flu or other illness.
  • Reduce stress: Chronic stress can suppress the immune response in your body. Try practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to infections.

Baptista is a Hybrid Professional and the Executive Director of ProHumane Afrique International.  ProHumane is a charitable, development & think-tank organisation working with communities & individuals to create sustainable solutions to transform communities through diverse pro-poor initiatives. Pro-poor initiatives are initiatives that help to alleviate poverty. You can reach us via e-mail at [email protected]  and follow this conversation on all our social media sites: Linked-In/ Twitter/ Facebook/ Instagram: ProHumane Afrique International. Call or WhatsApp: +233(0)262213313. Hashtag: #behumane #thegivingcapsules #prohumaneafriqueint  #fowc

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