By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The federal government yesterday described as fake and sinister a report that the outbreak of Monkey Pox in Bayelsa State resulted from a free medical care exercise it is allegedly administered in some parts of the Niger Delta.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a statement in Abuja said Nigerians should disregard the report which, the federal government said was apparently being spread by some unscrupulous persons to fit into a sinister agenda.
It said: ”The Federal Government has not conducted any free medical service or care in either Bayelsa or Rivers state, as alleged in the fake report being circulated. So that could not have been the cause of the outbreak of Monkey Pox in both states.
“Monkey Pox is a virus found only in monkeys and it is rare in human beings. It belongs to the same family as Chicken Pox and Smallpox.
”It is suspected that someone may have contacted it by eating monkey meat, thus triggering the current outbreak,” Mohammed said.
He assured Nigerians that no effort would be spared in curtailing the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile, there are suggestions that severe flooding induced by the heavy rains this year may have triggered the current outbreak of the Monkey Pox viral disease in parts of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
It was learnt that different species of animals usually found in the bushes, which were displaced by the floods from their natural habitats found their way to people’s homes, especially around the outskirts of the city centre, where the incidence of the ailment was first reported last week.
So far, 13 suspected cases of the new viral disease are being treated at an isolation ward at the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri.
Over 50 persons were also being traced at different locations in the state following the outbreak of the disease, which had also infected a medical doctor who came in contact with the patients.
The State Commissioner for Health, Prof Ebitimitula Etebu, told THISDAY yesterday that the government was also exploring the possibility that animals, which were now searching for dry land could have had contact with residents of Agbura, in Yenagoa, where the index case was spotted.
Monkey pox, which was noticed for the first time in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is usually hosted by animals, including monkeys, rats, squirrels, antelopes with secretions from dead animals being more contagious.
Symptoms of monkey pox, according to medical experts, could range from a severe headache, fever and back pains to rashes bigger and more frightening than chicken pox.
Etebu said that he could not categorically say if the cases of those affected had increased or plummeted since Saturday evening when he last had the daily briefings from workers in the field, but added that residents were still reaching the ministry through the available media provided for contact tracing.
“We are still seeing people, but in terms of how many, I haven’t got the situation report today, but we are succeeding. People are responding positively. They are calling in and our teams are going round. But there’s been nothing dramatic”, he said.
On what could have triggered the outbreak, the commissioner said: “We have no peculiar situation here. But the floods might be partly responsible because many of these animals have left their natural habitats and looking for dry ground. It is not unusual that that was how they came in contact with the victims”.
He noted that on its own, the disease does not kill, but stressed that the state was taking the outbreak seriously because medical complications could arise in the process, especially among children, which could lead to death.
He said apart from some experts that the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had deployed on the second day after the outbreak, there had been no other help from the centre in terms of logistics.
He, however, said being a technocrat, he wasn’t interested in raising the alarm on such matters, since there was “a chain of command,” adding that the situation would have been better with more logistics assistance from the federal government and international partners.
Etebu said: “Usually we don’t stockpile for emergencies, so when they happen in this kind of magnitude, nothing will be enough. That is why we need assistance from the federal government. Everything we are doing now is funded by the state government.
“We do not only need technical support, we also need to deploy to other local governments apart from where it is currently confined. We pay a lot for logistics.”
He said the sample sent to Senegal for analysis had yet to arrive, explaining that culturing and growing the sample in the lab to determine the particular strain might take a while to conclude.
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, yesterday said that the sensitization campaign mounted by his ministry on the state radio with translations in all the local dialects in the state will be aggressively sustained.
He said the government had commenced sensitisation campaign and advocacy visits to communities in the state on the need to reassure the indigenes of government’s intervention and activities in curbing further spread of the disease.
While giving an update on the situation, he disclosed that the government has curbed further spread of the disease, adding that out of the number of those affected and quarantined at the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital (NDUTH) Okolobiri, many were already showing signs of recovery.
Iworiso-Markson explained that two of the index cases and the Doctor affected by the disease had since fully recovered and have been discharged and expressed joy that so far no death had been recorded.
“To further allay the fears and reassure Bayelsans of Governments’ effort in curbing the disease, let me make it clear that we are on top of the situation. However it is important for people to take note of the fact that prevention is better than cure”, he said.