Relatives barred from visiting typhoid

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Relatives intending to visit typhoid patients admitted at the Beatrice Infectious Disease hospital were this week being barred from entering the hospital premises as medical personnel battled to contain the deadly disease.

More than 180 cases of typhoid have been reported in Harare so far with five people believed to have died.

Harare City Director for Health Services, Stanley Mungofa confirmed the spread of the disease and the fatalities.

In an interview, Mungofa told NewsDay that tap water in Harare was not safe for human consumption.

The city’s health director said even after treating the water with chlorine tablets supplied by non-governmental organisations to most of Harare residential areas, people still needed to boil the water before it could be safe to drink.

For years Harare has failed to supply safe-drinking water to its residents and has in many cases not been able to maintain constant supplies of the precious liquid to thousands of its residents.

The city has placed blame on unavailability of funds to procure water treatment chemicals, power outages and broken systems for the unsafe and unreliable water supply.

Five people died within a week in Mabvuku high density suburb following the outbreak of typhoid, which health authorities could not immediately diagnose correctly.

By the time they realised the killer disease was typhoid, the five had allegedly been on malaria treatment.

Health authorities in Mabvuku all referred to the typhoid outbreak as “some mysterious disease with malaria-like symptoms.”

Mungofa told NewsDay typhoid was last spotted in Zimbabwe more than 20 years ago.

That could have been the cause for the wrong “mysterious disease” diagnosis which probably led to the avoidable deaths of the five victims.

Meanwhile typhoid continues to take its toll.

This week ambulances shuttled chronic cases of typhoid between Mabvuku and Beatrice Infectious Diseases Hospital.

Typhoid fever is contracted when people eat food or drink water that has been infected with the Salmonella typhi parasite.

It is recognised by the sudden onset of sustained fever, severe headache, nausea and severe loss of appetite.

It is sometimes accompanied by hoarse cough and constipation or diarrhoea.

Severe forms have been described with mental dullness and meningitis. Medical journals say case-fatality rates of 10% can be reduced to less than 1% with appropriate antibiotic therapy.

Typhoid fever is transmitted by food and water contaminated by the faeces and urine of patients and carriers. Polluted water is the most common source of typhoid.

People can transmit the disease as long as the bacteria remain in their system; most people are infectious prior to and during the first week of convalescence.

Preventive measures include disposal of human faeces in a sanitary manner, protection and chlorinating public water supplies and avoiding possible back flow connections between sewers and water supplies.

A visit to the hospital by NewsDay this week saw security personnel on guard taking strict measures to screen visitors.

A notice placed on the main entrance read: “No visitors allowed until further notice.”

Everyone that was allowed in had to go through the rigorous hygiene procedure including washing of hands with treated water and disinfecting feet or shoes on treated blankets.

The picture was reminiscent of the 2008 cholera pandemic that claimed more than 4000 lives.

“We are not allowing anyone here because you might catch the disease and spread it. That is what we trying to avoid,” explained a nursing sister.