Despite decades of work towards finding a vaccine, scientists and health officials in Nigeria are still mystified by the death of one girl who was infected with a rare strain of polio. Now they have evidence that confirms it was the so-called “Nigeria tooth” that is to blame.
The virus – which is not in Nigeria or other West African countries – crossed over from wild polio virus transmitted in South America.
The girl, whose name has not been released, had been travelling when she became sick. She developed fever, a cough and diarrhoea, and was eventually hospitalised and diagnosed with pneumonia. In late January, the strain of the virus destroyed the girl’s lungs and damaged her spleen, preventing her body from producing a vital protein needed to fight the illness. She died two days later.
Her case shows that the strain of the disease originally encountered in South America migrated through the virus reservoir in Nigeria and into the girl’s system.
“It’s also a concern because the previous outbreak that was reported at the beginning of 2017 showed that transmission might be linked to the same reservoir,” says Dr. Nduka Ojukwu, chief medical director of the Primary Health Care Development Centre in Abuja.
In 2011, the number of cases of acute flaccid paralysis in Nigeria was 137, which is very low. Only one of the cases in this outbreak was reported.
Ondo, Anambra, Bayelsa, Rivers and Cross River States – home to the pandemic group of polio – have reported 67 of the reported cases so far.
IN PHOTOS: Peeping past Nigeria’s not very secure security fence
Last December, Nigeria fell two short of its 2020 goal of eradicating polio.
The World Health Organization has reported only 20 new cases this year, including four in the first week of May. Worldwide, the number of cases is at its lowest level in two decades.
But Nigeria has been getting a terrible reputation on the polio front – when former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Anti-Polio Bill, he reminded everyone to “look closely at Nigeria”.
The disease still exists in parts of West Africa, but not in the way it used to – there are only isolated outbreaks.
Eight children in an outbreak in Guinea last year died.
In 2016, there were 17 confirmed cases in Niger.
In March 2017, there were only 3 cases in Sierra Leone. That month, the World Health Organization recorded its lowest number of new cases ever worldwide.
The path toward eradicating polio is becoming clearer. The World Health Organization has been focusing on countries that are affected by the epidemic and some countries that have not been affected by it at all.
The WHO also admits it is having to use a surveillance system for polio because the ones for other diseases are going to waste.
In Nigeria, this means that after major outbreaks, researchers now travel to developing nations where polio cases used to occur to learn how it spreads.
While the Nigerian case is disturbing, it does suggest some success in tracing the origin.