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Coronavirus, public health and biosecurity

2nd Feb, 2020 | By Dr. Idris Ademoh | ||

2019ended with the outbreak of a respiratory disease in humans caused by a new strain of coronavirus referred to as 2019-nCoV in far away china. The whole world is suddenly put on alert because of the high risk of spreading to other nations, and the likely wave of death that may follow. 2019-nCoV has been linked to consumption of seafood or snake in Wuhan, China. The symptoms of the disease include headache, running nose, cough, sore throat, fever, and feeling sick and death. These symptoms range from mild to severe infections. Interestingly, they are quite similar to the symptoms of endemic cold or flu. This is probably due to the fact that this coronavirus and some others are related in the family trees.

Coronaviruses belongs to group of related viruses whose genome is made of ribonucleic acid (RNA). |About 180 species of RNA viruses can infect humans and other mammals. In fact, 89% of human infective RNA viruses possess the ease of crossing natural host barrier to infect range of host species and humans. Annually, 2 new species of RNA viruses are discovered.

Most novel strain is linked or similar in genetic makeup. Amongst the hundreds of diseases caused by RNA viruses, the commonest ones are measles, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), polio, hepatitis A, C and E, HIV, rabies, yellow fever, Lassa fever, Newcastle disease, and middle east respiratory syndrome and the going infections by a new coronavirus. Some types of coronaviruses are associated with various infections in domesticated animals like dogs, cat, cattle, sheep, goats, camel, horses and birds by causing various sicknesses affecting respiration and digestive system. It is fairly established that the current outbreak of coronavirus in china may have come from animals.

Therefore, a virus transiting from animals to human causing Zoonotic disease has to be efficient. It must be able to cross from animal population to humans by contacts, ingestion or inhalation. Thereafter, the ease of human to human transmission is aided by the trio of contact-ingestion-inhalation cycle. This is the challenges of public health over the ages. That is, the increasing trends of infectious diseases of animal origin becoming a serious threat to human population.

Over the ages, the spread of animal diseases to humans is of concern. International apprehension is on the reality of the fact that the strain causing the 2019-nCoV is new, and people are dying from the sickness. Since 2012, an outbreak of coronavirus was diagnosed as the cause of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in the Arab world. This disease is clinically similar to the current outbreak in china. Secondly, the antibodies of this strain of the virus have been detected in camel.

Therefore, the lessons of the current outbreak should reawaken our attention on the seriousness and the increasing roles of animals in causing and spreading infectious diseases across borders. On a wider scope, pathogenic avian influenza of birds continued to cause outbreaks on farms across the world. In 1918 H1N1 stain of pathogenic avian influenza virus infected about 500 million people with recorded death of about 50 million. 88 years after the 1918 outbreaks, H5N1as a new stained spread to Nigeria in 2006. The poultry industry almost collapsed and a case of human fatality was recorded in Lagos. Billions of naira were spent on control, compensation and eradication programmes.

The panicky and a nationwide salt water drink to prevent Ebola is still fresh. Lassa fever is practically living with us and the frequency of outbreak is becoming endemic. Monkey, rats, mosquitoes are the animal host and reservoirs for our major infectious diseases. These are complicated by failing environmental and sanitary weaknesses. Rabies outbreaks from dogs and cats bites have been killing people with poor reporting of the diseases in Nigeria. In FCT, rabies outbreak was recorded in 2019 against series of seasonal vaccination exercises. Unfortunately, some communities and public response for free antirabies vaccination in dogs and cats can be frustrating because of poor responses.

The Nigerian elites are becoming fascinated by domestication of rare species of different wildlife as pets in the homes and farms. Sadly, along various major roads in the country, we often see the display of ranges of wildlife without record on health status and any form of veterinary profiling. Meat inspection in the abattoirs cannot be seen to have undergone a revolutionary change across the nations for accountability and responsive judgment to enforce public health safety. Therefore, consumers are severely exposed to diseases like tapeworm infestation, brucellosis, tuberculosis and other range of animal diseases from milk and meat consumption.

The FCT challenge is enormous, peculiar and strategic with regards to ease of outbreak of infectious diseases of animal origin. Abuja can be exposed to outbreak from other countries by virtue of the international airport service. Increasing population of exotic species in various households, weak inspection, enforcement problems and poor regulatory instruments are still a serious problem As more investment in commercial poultry farms grows in FCT, so is the challenge of exposing the public to consumption of diseased or questionable chickens by unscrupulous farmers. The failure of some marketer to avoid buying sick animals has to be controlled.

Some butchers in the habit of seeking a higher profit selling meat from sick animals, will continue to be a grave danger for public health security. The failure of poultry farmers, livestock dealers and butchers to understand the implications of selling diseased animal to the public as a challenge of investment failure has to be addressed by law. In most rural communities warehousing poultry farms, some villagers have failed to understand the reasons to avoid eating sick animals. In the 2006 outbreak of bird flu, some villagers were nonchalant over the implication of consuming dead chickens, while some irresponsible farmers failed to comply with the prohibition of moving poultry material freely across the country.

In Nigerian cities like Abuja suburb, the sights of public refuse dump are very common. Various species of animals like sheep, goat, cattle, dogs, cat, pigs and reptiles are seen scavenging for feeds from the decomposing refuse. At the same time, human scavengers at the refuse site are seen looking for recycling containers. Poor personal and environmental hygiene will continue to sustain the spread of infectious diseases. Farmers, households, and the general public must begin to be sensitive on handling sick animals without knowing the cause of sickness. Once a threat of pandemic is raised internationally, intervention alert has to be active and responsive. In FCT, it is important for our medical professionals to collaborate with federal Ministry of Health for surveillance on clear understanding of measures in place at port of entry.

Travelers coming from china and other infected countries without questions have to go through investigation and possible quarantine. Chinese workers coming into the country should either be restricted or stopped pending when a clear picture on the trend of the disease is established internationally. Even the recycling of Chinese workers through back and forth movement should be given considerable surveillance. Nigerians on repeated international movement have to be given attention to avoid outbreak.

The role of veterinary interventions should be encompassing beyond the current outbreak. This will entail a responsive profiling of animal resources of FCT through active surveillance for preemptive responses. The problem of influx of trade meat into FCT from questionable sources has to be resolved and the challenge of reengineering abattoir services is a focus for consumption safety. Veterinary inspection standards on regulation and enforcement should be strengthened by laws.

Interagency collaboration on information sharing is important for purposeful coordination of public health challenge. Engaging the general public on resolving veterinary public health challenges essential.

News Update

Malam Bello acknowledged and commended the good work of all health workers in FCT, especially for their efforts at combating the coronavirus.

Speaking to journalists last week at Asokoro District Hospital, where he is currently receiving treatment, Dr. Kawu explained that his journey to the isolation center began 12 days earlier when he experienced feverish conditions, prompting him to take the COVID-19 test which turned out positive.

Executive Secretary, Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Engr. Umar Gambo Jibrin, sounded the note of warning when he led an inter-departmental technical committee on inspection tour of some parts of the nation's capital city to assess the level of degradation perpetrated through activities of illegal developers

Chairman of the newly constituted FCT Ministerial Task Force on City Sanitation, Ikharo Attah handed the ultimatum during stakeholders' meeting with owners of businesses around the area on Monday.


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