At least 50 people have been killed in the last three weeks by a yet-to-be ascertained ailment in three communities in Kogi State, the state government announced yesterday.
The affected communities are Okunran, Okoloke and Isanlu-Esa all in Yagba West local government area of the state, according to the state health commissioner Dr Saka Audu.
Authorities in neighbouring Kwara State are also investigating reports of an outbreak which allegedly claimed some lives in Oro-Ago community in Ifelodun local government area of the state.
The Oloro of Oro-Ago, Oba Tafa Dada and the President of Oro-Ago Development Union, Mr Olaniyi Olushola raised the alarm of the strange illness that hit some members of the community, especially the herders which they said claimed many lives.
But Dr Audu confirmed yesterday during a visit to the affected communities to assess the health situation, saying a technical team was earlier sent to take samples which were sent to General Hospital Irua, Edo State, for investigation.
"We are here to make sure we determine the cause of these mysterious deaths and then quickly proffer a solution to it," he said.
"From this stage now, the government has taken full responsibility to take care of those who are already ill and to make sure that we arrest the spread of this disease," the official said.
He said, "It has been confirmed that it is not Lassa fever, but whatever it is, we will carry out a further investigation with information we have with us now and come up with a definite diagnosis.
"We are going further to find out what the real cause may be. We don't know what it is currently, but all hands are on deck to make sure that we find out the definitive cause of the mysterious deaths among the kids."
Also speaking, a consultant at the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) Hospital Egbe, Dr Jannette Hathorn, said a child of two-and-a-half years was brought to the hospital which later died after 12 hours.
"We had definitely had a misleading news about patients bleeding around, so we tried to make a diagnosis for viral hemorrhagic fever (Lassa fever), but the lab results came out negative.
"We are sure it is not Lassa fever but on the other hand, our concern is that we do not know exactly the cause of what was happening. We had a differential but we never came to a definitive diagnosis," she said.
The doctor said two other adult patients were also brought, one presented with ulcer-viral illness but there was no bleeding component of any hemorrhagic symptom.
"We isolated them and both of them were treated for malaria. So, when they started improving, we let them go," she said.
"But our concern was another parent who brought their child to the hospital and pleaded with us for help that about 40 to 50 people had died in their villages with similar symptoms as their child in the last three weeks.
"So, we called the World Health Organisation (WHO) and our local state person, who came after the child had died yesterday to take the samples of everything; we must know exactly what we are dealing with," she said.
A community leader, Oba J.D Ogunyanda, said the outbreak started over three weeks ago, and they immediately alerted the local government administrator to come to their aid.
The leader of the Fulani community, Damina Ibrahim, said that the outbreak which started about three weeks ago affected mostly children and adults, who were said to be stooling and vomiting.
He explained further that when death tolls increased, the victims were rushed to the hospital, where the doctors could not ascertain the cause of their illness. "Some of them died in the hospital while some were discharged without any cure, "Ibrahim said.
He added that over 50 people had died since the outbreak of the strange ailment, and appealed for urgent efforts to address the epidemic.
In Kwara State, the Commissioner for Health in the state, Alhaji Suleiman Alege, yesterday told journalists in Ilorin that his ministry had not confirmed the outbreak of disease or fatalities in any part of the state.
But community leaders Oba Dada and Olushola who raised the alarm said many people had died as a result of the strange illness within two weeks adding that it had been reported to the state Ministry of Health in Ilorin, through one Dr Lawal.
The commissioner said the ministry had deployed its epidemiology team of the ministry comprising of state epidemiologists, director public health, disease surveillance information officer and the disease surveillance information officer for the local government.
"We heard it started at Gaa Olokuta at Ifelodun local government area of the state close to Oke Ode, the state epidemiologists went there and asked the residents of the community but they could not confirm any outbreak of any disease or mortality of any case. Along the line, we heard another rumour and immediately the state epidemiologists summoned the local government epidemiologists and they took samples even though the community denied the outbreak of any disease.
"This outbreak need to follow normal surveillance system because, without proper confirmation of a case, we cannot say that there is an outbreak. We went to Oro-Ago with our team and the WHO. We met the Fulani on the ground. Samples were taken on patients that day and we have sent it to virological centre in Lagos and we are expecting the result today and once the result is ready, we will let the whole world know the outcome," he said.
The Community Health Officer, Public Health Science, Obayan M.O Philip in charge of ECWA clinic and maternity Oro-Ago, said he only recorded four deaths in June out of which one was brought dead to the health centre.
"I resumed here on June 1, 2017, and when I came in, the Fulani around here brought a case of somebody vomiting blackish substance which medically is called coffee grand vomitus. It is not only the Fulani that was affected, it also affected those guys who are into the migraine work that is the guys who engaged in the felling of trees in the bush. I categorised them as migraine guys. They were also affected by the problem. From the little research I have done, I discovered that people who have contact with the bush constantly are the ones that were actually affected because it didn't affect anybody living in the town," he said.
"The Fulani were greatly affected because of their nature of moving from bush to bush to feed their cattle. In June I lost four people, one old woman, one young guy and a young lady and a small boy. In fact, the small boy was brought in here dead.
"Since the second week of July once they come in and I discovered is the same symptom, I don't usually admit them, I will just refer them to the general hospital in Omun Aran. From July, I have referred close to 10 people to the general hospital," he said.
Our reporter gathered that there is the possibility that the source of the Fulani water was contaminated.
One of the Fulani leaders, Umaru Alkali, appealed to the government at all levels to come to their aid by finding a solution to the strange ailment.
We're investigating - NCDC
When contacted, the Nigerian Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC) said it had received reports from its surveillance officers on the situation. It added that blood samples had been collected and investigations had commenced.