20 July, 2011

Polio returns to Nigeria, South Sudan's Nodding Disease, & Poisoning outbreak triggers countrywide alcohol ban

Photo credit: Julien Harneis via Flikr
Polio Threatens Nigeria After Progress
UNICEF has detected 20 new polio cases in northern Nigeria. These cases threaten to erase the substantial progress Nigeria has made in eliminating the disease. The country reduced polio deaths from 338 to 21 from between 2009 and 2010, but a wild-type poliovirus has now bed reported in six Nigerian state.  

In 2003, Kano state refused to participate in a polio vaccination campaign after a few Muslim leaders stated the vaccines were actually anti-fertility drugs. Eventually health workers were able to allay the fears of parents. Then in 2005, 69 cases of polio were found to be due to the live virus in the oral vaccine drop, triggering a new wave of suspicion and fear of vaccination. The World Health Organization has worked closely with local leaders to achieve a high rate of vaccination and drop Kano state’s polio case count to only 1 in 2010. The new cases are in Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, and Yobe.  WHO has pledged to eliminate polio worldwide by 2012, a goal that will now be even harder to achieve.

Nodding Syndrome in South Sudan
A mysterious disease continues to grow in three African countries, including recently independent South Sudan. Nodding syndrome, named for the uncontrollable nodding that occurs, impairs physical growth, cognitive development and ultimately leads to premature death The characteristic nodding arises from seizures that cause lapses in neck muscle tone, letting the head fall forward. Seizures appear to be triggered by the act of chewing; thus, children have difficulty eating and eventually suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth. The disease is progressive and fatal, usually first appearing between ages 5 and 15.

Though first documented in 1962, the cause of nodding syndrome remains elusive. Experts have theorized environmental causes (such as toxic residue from ammunition in war zones), genetic factors, or dietary customs are to blame. Other possibilities include Onchocerca volvulus, the parasite responsible for river blindness, or a vitamin deficiency.  The disease also exists in parts of Uganda and Tanzania but no linking factors have yet been found between the countries, meaning experts are still unsure of the true cause of nodding syndrome.

Alcohol Ban in Ecuador After Poisoning
The Ecuadorian government has imposed a 72-hour ban on the purchase, sale or consumption of alcohol. After drinking adulterated alcohol, 21 people have died and  105 people are receiving medical treatment. Los Rios province has seen 19 deaths, while Tungurahua ans Azuay provinces have reported one death each. Public Health Minister, David Chiriboga reported that investigators analyzed 28 barrels of alcohol (each with 55 gallons) and found methanol, a toxic alcohol. Methanol is produced if the alcohol is not distilled properly.

Some methanol poisoning symptoms include abdominal pain, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and also difficulty breathing. Although these symptoms can also be confused with drinking too much, it is advised that anyone in Ecuador experiencing such symptoms be aware that it may be due to methanol poisoning.

Chiriboga hopes that the 72-hour ban will give the government enough time to discover the source of this poisoning and contain it. Health officials encourage anyone who feels nausea or experiences vomiting to immediately seek medical attention in order to prevent the situation from spiraling even more out of control.

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