The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has reported that there have been a total of 798 confirmed cases of diphtheria in Nigeria since December 2022, resulting in one death. In a press statement, signed by the Director General of NCDC, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, it was revealed that out of the 798 confirmed cases, 654 individuals had not been vaccinated.
The statement acknowledged the death of a four-year-old child due to diphtheria in June 2023 in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. It further mentioned that multiple outbreaks of diphtheria have occurred in various states across the country since December 2022.
According to the statement, the majority of the cases (782) were reported in Kano, while other affected states include Lagos, Yobe, Katsina, Cross River, Kaduna, and Osun. The age group most affected by the outbreak was children between 2 and 14 years old, accounting for 71.7% of the confirmed cases. The overall case fatality rate stood at 10%, with a total of 80 deaths recorded.
Dr Adetifa explained that diphtheria is caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae, and it can be prevented through vaccination. However, the ongoing outbreak revealed that a significant number of the confirmed cases (82%) had not received the vaccine. The statement highlighted sub-optimal vaccination coverage as a key factor contributing to the outbreak, as a national survey found that less than half (41.7%) of children under 15 years old were fully protected against diphtheria.
The NCDC is collaborating with the FCT Health and Human Services Department to implement control measures and prevent further spread of the disease. The public is advised to be vigilant and seek early diagnosis and treatment if they experience symptoms of diphtheria. Healthcare workers are also urged to promptly notify disease surveillance officers upon encountering suspected cases.
Regarding the FCT case, the diphtheria Incident Management System (IMS) has been activated to coordinate outbreak response activities. Active case finding, risk communication, community engagement, and sample collection are among the key activities being carried out.
In response to the outbreak, the NCDC has established a national Diphtheria Technical Working Group to coordinate surveillance and response efforts across the country. These efforts encompass coordination, surveillance, laboratory investigation, risk communication, case management, and immunization activities.
To reduce the risk of diphtheria, the NCDC advises parents to ensure their children receive the complete three doses of diphtheria antitoxin-containing pentavalent vaccine as part of Nigeria’s childhood immunization schedule. Healthcare workers are encouraged to maintain a high level of suspicion for diphtheria and follow standard infection prevention and control precautions.
If individuals exhibit symptoms suggestive of diphtheria, they should isolate themselves and notify their local government area (LGA), State disease surveillance officer (DSNO), State Ministry of Health helpline, or contact the NCDC toll-free line at 6232. Close contacts of confirmed cases should be closely monitored, receive antibiotic prophylaxis, and start diphtheria treatment if necessary. Healthcare workers with significant exposure to diphtheria cases should be vaccinated against the disease and practice infection prevention and control measures.