Killer Disease Strikes Opuwo

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By Michael Liswaniso OPUWO Opuwo has been struck by an acute diarrhoeal disease that has so far killed at least four people. Some cases, according to a report by the Epidemiology Division at the Opuwo Hospital, to the Permanent Secretary of Health and Social Services Dr Kalumbi Shangula, have been detected at Outapi in the Omusati Region. Dr Shangula yesterday confirmed that acute gastro-enteritis has been reported in Opuwo with 22 cases officially known so far. The disease, he said, could be caused by polluted water or other pathogens. Depending on the source of the disease, the disease can be infectious, he said. Since November 1 when the first case is suspected to have been brought for medical attention, 22 people including three Angolans were admitted to the Opuwo hospital. Among the first cases reported was on November 7 from Otjimuhaka clinic, 140 km from Opuwo. Around the same time, an increase in the disease’s trend was observed. Indications are that two people from the community died, with one of them dying before reaching the hospital while the other two died in hospital. A report said it was believed that the epicentre of the disease is a village some seven kilometers into Angola from the Namibian border along the Kunene River, with sources across the river saying one nurse had succumbed to a disease with similar signs and symptoms. All cases had specimens taken and sent to both local and the Windhoek National Institute of Pathology laboratories but cholera and typhoid, which were suspected, were not isolated. From four laboratory specimens sent to Windhoek, two specimens tested positive for Giardia, five specimens tested positive for Giardia lambliae and none tested positive for cholera and typhoid. Fourteen of the patients were diagnosed with gastro-enteritis, four for acute gastro-enteritis and one each for chronic Giardia lambliae, malaria, gastro-enteritis or severe dehydration and bloody watery diarrhoea. Since Namibians and Angolans share a lot in terms of their social interaction, the threat of the disease escalating on the Namibian side is high, says the report. Due to this, the report recommends that, “Risk factors such as eating or drinking contaminated foods such as undercooked fish, lack of access to clean safe water and food supplies, attending large gatherings of people including ceremonies such as weddings or funerals, should be avoided during periods of suspicion.” An analysis of the situation indicates that nine cases, which represents 35 percent, came from Opuwo although the report said it was not yet clear whether the patents are coming from Opuwo or are just using the Opuwo physical address while seeking medical attention. Two cases are from Otuzemba, while other districts Oukongo, Onkankwa, Etilyasa, Etapela, Omuhama, Okanguati, Ovinyange and Orokapare have reported one case each. Although the most affected age is above 16 years, included are two children of less than one year of age. Four of the patients do not have their ages indicated and the ages of those that died could not be identified. The majority of the patients (14) are females with men numbering eight. In the past few days, a team headed by a regional health inspector based in Opuwo, Joice Mashamba, was dispatched into the field and spent hours verifying facts and getting a clearer picture. “The team verified that the epicentre of the disease is at a village some seven kilometers from the Namibian border at the Kunene River. The team from the field also initially reported that there are a lot of cases being reported as well as deaths including one Angolan health worker from the same village. The deaths are caused by dehydration. They were also informed that some of the cases are being seen in the Outapi district hospital,” reveals the report. The division was also not sure what the causative agent is considering that people are getting infected at different points in time and not from a common source. The disease is suspected to originate from neighbouring Angola where similar cases have been reported in the past years. Giardia lambliae is an infection of the small intestines that is caused by a parasite causing diarrhoea and malabsorption. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but sometimes it can be severe. The disease is spread via contaminated water and food.