Mystery Disease Claims More Victims

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The number of patients affected by the unknown viral infection that paralyses its victims has risen to 28. But four patients that were thought to have the same disease have been taken off the list and one has been discharged, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Service Dr Kalumbi Shangula said yesterday. The disease, whose name the ministry will only confirm this Wednesday as it is waiting for laboratory results from South Africa, has now claimed six lives. At a press briefing on Friday, the ministry said it was dealing with a very serious situation and hoped that the disease does not get out of hand. Shangula said two patients are in the critical care units of the Katutura and Windhoek Central Hospitals – three in a critical condition, while the rest are stable. The disease, which causes extreme weakness of the lower limbs in patients, was first reported in Aranos on May 7, with the second case reported in Windhoek around the same time. So far, the disease has broken out in the Khomas, Hardap and Otjozondjupa Regions, with Katutura accounting for the majority of cases with ages ranging from 14 to 55. The symptoms of the disease include acute paralysis of three regions with the following symptoms: lower limb weaknesses, paralysis, breathing difficulties, inability to walk, chest pains, cold and flu, neck stiffness, headache and dizziness. Deputy Minister Petrina Haingura said on Friday local investigations by laboratories could not reach a final diagnosis as to what the country is dealing with, hence technical assistance has been sought from an accredited laboratory in South Africa. If necessary, Namibia will also seek international support. The first case from Aranos in the Hardap Region was reported on May 7 followed by one from Windhoek around the same time. Other areas where the patients come from are Ombili, Havana, One Nation, Babilon, Single Quarters, Central Katutura, Okahandja and Otjiwarongo. Health officials said although the first reported patients were still alive, it remained difficult to collect more information to determine the source of the sickness while the patients were in a critical condition on life-support systems. Actions taken so far by the ministry include isolating all patients and limiting the movements of visitors to avoid a further potential spreading of the illness. They were taking stool, urine and blood specimens of all the patients as well as testing their spinal fluid. The municipality has also been roped in to test water and food to determine the cause of the disease. The ministry has also conducted a polio immunisation campaign for Khomas and Hardap at the weekend because of the suspicion that the disease could be polio. The im-munisation campaign for the whole country is scheduled for June10. The ministry has urged the nation to stay calm as the situation was receiving the highest attention from the government and the public should report any suspected cases with sudden weakness of the extremities to health facilities near them and to co-operate with the emergency health investigating teams in their areas.

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