When Maria Mudzvamutsi of Kuwadzana decided to satiate her tastes buds with some delicious mango for the first time this season last week, little did she know that the consequences would be fatal.
“It all started when I ate the mangoes that I bought at market stalls,” Mudzvamutsi recalled. “I had a strong craving for the fruit and it was my first time this season.”
However, no sooner had she had several bites than she sensed impending danger, and her body lost its bearings.
“I started to have a fever, followed by vomiting and diarrhea and I was quickly rushed to a local polyclinic and tests showed that I had contracted typhoid,” she said.
She was one of the many people who overwhelmed poly-clinics in high density suburbs seeking treatment following an outbreak of typhoid in parts of Harare.
The City of Harare is struggling to contain the typhoid outbreak typhoid especially in the high density locations.
The number of victims has been increasing each day and local health experts are struggling to “arrest” an “archaic disease” that other countries have successfully contained.
Another patient from Warren Park, Ruzvidzo Mamvure, said that he suspected that the water he drank was contaminated with the bacteria which caused typhoid.
“The council has failed over the years to provide adequate clean water and we rely heavily on the borehole sunk by Unicef at the clinic. I started to vomit and experienced cramps. I thought maybe I had contracted cholera,” he said.
The attack gave Mamvure a scare, and he felt like one walking “in the shadows of death” but he added that after receiving treatment, he was now on the mend.
A visit to a council-run clinic in Kuwadzana showed scores of people waiting to be diagnosed, most of whom expressed fear that they had probably been infected because of the watery waste they were excreting.
A nurse at the clinic said there had been an upsurge of diarrheal diseases in the area.
“I cannot confirm that all the people who come seeking medical attention complaining of stomach pains have typhoid, we wait for the tests but from the look of things many people have been diagnosed with the disease though diarrhea is common here because of the conditions these people live in,” said the nurse.
According to Wikipedia, the bacteria which causes typhoid fever may be spread through poor hygiene habits and public sanitation conditions, and sometimes also by flying insects that feed on human waste.
Public education campaigns encouraging people to wash their hands after toilet use and before handling food are an important component in controlling spread of the disease.
A person may become an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever, suffering no symptoms, but capable of passing on the infection to others.
According to the Centre for Disease Control, approximately 5% of people who contract typhoid continue to carry the disease after they recover.
City health director Prosper Chonzi has blamed the typhoid outbreak on contaminated food sold in the open in the city’s sprawling suburbs.
“We have confirmed that the disease is typhoid. It has been caused by contaminated foodstuffs sold in the open . . . If people eat food handled by the person, they risk contracting typhoid,” he said.
People contract typhoid from eating food or taking beverages that have been handled by an infected person.
One could also contract the disease if they drink or use water that has been contaminated with sewage containing salmonella typhi.
Symptoms of typhoid include weakness, stomach pains, headache, or loss of appetite. In some cases, patients have a rash of flat, rose-colored spots.
Chonzi however said Harare’s drinking water quality was of acceptable standards but stressed that residents had to ensure safety by boiling water or adding aqua tablets used to kill bacteria before use. Aqua tablets can be obtained free of charge from all city health facilities.
A cholera epidemic that coincided with a doctors’ strike killed over 4 000 people out of 98 000 recorded infections between August 2008 and July 2009.
The Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS), a local voluntary humanitarian organisation, has responded to the typhoid outbreak.
ZRCS Marketing and Public Relations Officer, Takemore Mazuruse, said they responded to the scare through the society’s Disaster Preparedness and Management programme.
“Though this programme, the National Society complements government and other humanitarian agencies’ efforts in alleviating human suffering during disasters,” he said.
The society donated non-food relief items including water treatment detergents and other materials that go with curbing typhoid outbreaks.
The total donation is made up of 240 bars green soap, 480 units of regular jik, 120 000 water maker sachets and 52 blankets.