Paralysis Cases Go Up to 22

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Additional cases of the unknown possible viral infection causing paralysis were detected on Friday, bringing the total number of cases to more than 22. Five people have died so far from the unknown infection that has broken out in Khomas, Hardap and Otjozondjupa regions. Director of Primary Health Care in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Maggie Nghatanga told New Era yesterday those hospitalised were transferred to Ward 5A, where the patients have been isolated. Around midday on Friday, the Ministry of Health and Social Services announced that the country was dealing with a very serious situation and had admitted 22 people with acute paralysis from the three regions with the following symptoms: lower limb weakness, paralysis, breathing difficulties, inability to walk, chest pains, cold and flu, neck stiffness, headache and dizziness. The majority of the patients, whose ages range from 14 to 55 years, are from Katutura. Nghatanga said the conditions of the patients are stable except for the pregnant woman who is still in acute care on a ventilator. Deputy Minister Petrina Haingura told the press last week that local investigations by laboratories did not come to a final conclusion as to what diagnosis the country is dealing with, hence technical assistance has been sought from a regional-based accredited laboratory in South Africa. Although the ministry has been conducting a polio immunisation campaign for under-fives in Katutura until today, it says, “There is no confirmed disease outbreak of polio or any other disease.” The National Broadcaster quoted the Khomas Regional Governor, Sophia Shaningwa on Friday as saying that children should go for immunization because she was told that the disease is polio. In an urgent notice to the media however, Acting Permanent Secretary Simwanza Simenda said the situation is being monitored closely and any new information will be communicated to the public by the government. The PHC Director added that the immunization campaign has been brought forward for Khomas and Hardap regions “due to the uncertainties about the disease”. Otherwise a polio immunisation campaign for the rest of the country is scheduled for June 10. Health officials last week said although they had an idea of what the disease could be, the information could not be divulged at the moment. The country is said to be 99 percent safe from polio with 10 years of polio vaccines. As of Friday, the Head of Internal Medicines, Dr Flavia Mugala said due to the uncertainties of the diagnosis, a clinical team was working on a treatment protocol to keep patients alive. “The ministry is mobilising funds to keep the people alive and get the right treatment when the investigations are through,” she said. Mugala also ruled out meningitis, saying they were not dealing with meningitis symptoms. The results are only expected this Wednesday. Dr Jack Vries, Chairperson of the Emergency Preparedness and Management Committee said investigations are being conducted on a number of factors such as where the people had travelled, and also on whether their water or food was contaminated. The first case, which is from Aranos, was reported on May 7, followed by another one from Windhoek, which was around the same time. The other patients came from Ombili, Havana, One Nation, Babilon, Single Quarters, Central Katutura, Okahandja and Otjiwarongo. The officials said although the first reported patient was still alive, they could not disclose more information as the patient was in a critical condition on a life-support system. Actions taken so far by the ministry include isolating all patients and limiting the movements of visitors to avoid further potential spread of the illness to others, obtaining stool, urine, blood specimens as well as spinal fluid from patients for investigations. Meanwhile, New Era understands that the Blood Transfusion Service has limited the collection of blood from donors coming from the affected areas. So far, the blood collected has been quarantined and will not be used pending further information on the disease. For those that have passed on, Haingura said, autopsy procedures would be conducted. While urging the nation to stay calm as the situation was getting the highest attention from her ministry, the deputy minister urged the public to report any suspected cases with sudden weakness of the extremities to health facilities in their proximity and to cooperate with the emergency health investigating teams in their areas.