Nigeria: Averting Coronavirus Epidemic in Nigeria

People wear face masks as they wait at China's Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport arrivals.
21 January 2020

As medical professionals battle to identify the source of a deadly mystery virus called coronavirus, which so far has killed three persons including a 61 year old woman in China; fears are mounting across Asia and other parts of the world over the cross-border spread of the disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned hospitals worldwide that the disease which has spread to Japan could sweep the globe.

The health ministry in Japan confirmed its first case of the disease after a man in his 30s tested positive for the new China coronavirus. Health authorities discovered that the man had been to the Chinese city of Wuhan, where there has been an outbreak of pneumonia, believed to be caused by the new disease. The health ministry said tests conducted found the same coronavirus as had been detected in other patients in the Wuhan outbreak.

Majority of the infected cases in Wuhan have been traced to the Huanan wholesale seafood market, which has been shut down for disinfection. Wuhan health authorities said some environmental samples taken from the market tested positive for the virus. Apart from fish, the market also sold other live animals, including birds, rabbits and snakes; sparking concerns that the virus like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) might have been transmitted to humans from animals.

Coronavirus is an airborne virus that attacks the respiratory system, causing lung lesions. They are a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to SARS. Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches. It is incredibly contagious and spreads through contact with anything the virus is on as well as infected breath, coughs or sneezes.

Dr Drosten, who was one of the co-discoverers of SARS and the director of the Institute for Virology at Berlin's Charite hospital, said SARS and coronavirus are two viruses that are closely related. SARS is an airborne virus, spread in a similar way to colds and the flu. A person could be infected if he breathes small droplets of saliva from a cough or sneeze. Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world.

German researchers said they have developed the first diagnostic test for coronavirus. Dr Christian Drosten, said the test developed by his team will allow labs to reliably diagnose the so-called novel coronavirus "in a very short period of time". He said the test protocol is being made available through the WHO, and laboratories can order a molecule from the German team to compare patient samples with a positive control.

Dr Drosten said laboratories which have control samples for SARS in stock can use it to diagnose the new virus, cutting the time required to create a functioning test. However, he expressed concerns about labs in countries where it would not be easy to transport samples or where staff aren't well trained. It could also be a challenge where there is a large number of patients that have to be tested.

Besides the possibility of humans transmitting the virus, the busy traffic of travellers between China and Nigeria is another factor that could turn its outbreak into a global pandemic. Nigeria must therefore see the emergence of coronavirus disease as a public health threat; putting all health institutions including port health on red alert.

The National Centre for Disease Control should liaise with the Nigeria Immigration Service and Port Health officials to quickly put health measures in place for checking visitors and returnees from China and other affected countries at all entry points into the country. Government commitment to public enlightenment on symptoms of the disease and precautionary tips should not fall short of the efforts made against the spread of Ebola in 2014. Health authorities must keep Nigerians informed on further developments on coronavirus.

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