Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
The death toll from a strange illness that has hit Epeilo-Otukpa community of Ogbadibo Local Government Area in Benue State has risen to 20, the Benue State Government has said.
The State Ministry of Health and Human Services had on Tuesday raised an alarm over the outbreak of a strange illness in the community saying 17 people had so far died while many others were taking treatment in different hospitals across the state.
Speaking by telephone with newsmen on Saturday, State Epidemiologist Dr Sam Ngishe, who confirmed three more deaths, said 19 men and one lady between the ages of 7 to 40 had died from the ailment.
Ngishe noted that already, samples had been collected from the patients and taken for laboratory analysis to ascertain the actual cause of the illness.
“Altogether, there have been 20 deaths and the state Ministry of Health is in the location and we have been able to move victims to different hospitals. We have collected samples and sent to the National Reference Laboratory to be able to establish the kind of organism that is causing the problem.
While noting that the state Ministry of Health is suspecting the strange illness to be yellow fever, Ngishe regretted that members of the community are of the strong belief that their gods may have brought the sickness upon them.
‘But we are thinking in the direction of yellow fever. You know Enugu State has a situation of yellow fever. Also Delta and Edo. And the presentation has been very unusual for this current episode of the outbreak.
‘So, our mind is in the direction of yellow fever. Of course, it’s a viral haemorrhagic condition. But we suspect yellow fever. When the result comes out, we will be able to say for sure what it is.
‘As we speak, the state is planning to initiate a yellow fever campaign which is coming up very soon. And of course, we will continue with the management of the patients. Why we intervene in public health is because you think that if you intervene early, you might be able to reduce the number of casualties in terms of people that fall sick and those that end up dying. That’s why we are not taking our intervention lightly.
‘The only issue we had is that the community did not raise the issue early on time. As a matter of fact, the community has a very wrong perception about what is happening to them. They are thinking that people have offended the gods of the land, and so, that’s why things like that are happening.’
He added that those who have died from the strange illness were majorly below the age of 40 saying all those who had fallen ill with the sickness are two ladies and 24 men while one lady and 19 men have so far died.
Ngishe said from what the Ministry has noticed, the sickness seems to affect 12 men to one lady, adding that, ‘the least person that has been down with the illness is age seven and the oldest is 66, however, the higher number is between the ages of 40 downwards.’
Asked how many patients have so far been admitted at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH), Ngishe said two adding that, ‘the symptoms present in a very unusual manner and before you know it, it runs a cause.’
He said some of those who are infected have refused to be transferred to the state tertiary health care facility while some others that are not as critical are receiving treatment at FMC Efeko and General Hospital Otukpa.
‘So far we have managed two in BSUTH. One is not in the hospital but the other one is in the hospital and is stable. That one was brought in yesterday (Friday) by our ambulance. We have one ambulance that was parked at Okpoga waiting to bring any willing patient to Makurdi.
‘You can’t just catch somebody and begin to move him. So, we are trying to pacify them to see how many people will come and be treated in Makurdi. The Supervising Commissioner is also going to be at that location too.’
The Epidemiologist disclosed that the youth leader of the community died on Friday, three days after he presented with the illness.
‘The patient at BSUTH came in yesterday and is stable. But most of the times, the way the illness presents is that the person who has the condition would be stable and before you know it, it changes. So, when they told me, I said let’s take samples since she’s a little bit symptomatic. Let’s be sure that we don’t take chances because the youth leader died with four days,’ he said.