U.S. health agency backs Zim typhoid response efforts

Harare, January 24, 2017: A United States health agency is providing assistance to the government of Zimbabwe and has deployed health experts to provide laboratory and epidemiological surveillance support to contain the outbreak of typhoid fever in the country, an official said on Thursday.

“For our part we were asked to provide two things, the first is epidemiologic surveillance support and the second is laboratory support,” said Dr. Shirish Balachandra, Branch Chief for HIV Services at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC- Zimbabwe) during an interview with a local radio station. “To this end, we have brought in two additional staff members from our headquarters in Atlanta; together with our colleagues based here in Zimbabwe,  they help in tracing pattern of transmission, and making sure we quickly identify antibiotic resistance, so we can switch to the right treatment.”

According to CDC- Zim, typhoid fever is a treatable infection transmitted from human to human by the bacteria Salmonella typhi. It is found worldwide, but is much more prevalent in communities with poor sanitation, or lack of access to clean food and water. Generally, people are exposed to the typhoid bacterium through food or water that has been contaminated by fecal material. This may be the result of unprotected water sources and/or poor hygienic conditions at sites of food preparation. As such, people can significantly reduce their risk of typhoid exposure by avoiding potentially contaminated food and water sources. Typhoid is frequently difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms are often vague: fever, abdominal pain, and malaise are most common, with some patients experiencing constipation or diarrhea. The most recent compilation of data shows that in 2016, Zimbabwe saw over 2200 suspected cases of typhoid fever with 9 deaths.

The recent reported outbreak saw the death of a young girl on Christmas day, and over 42 confirmed cases in Harare in the past month.

Bhalachandra hailed local efforts to coordinate local and international resources in responding to the outbreak.

“The ministry (of health and child care) has taken a very strong position and responded appropriately in bringing all of us together to coordinate treatment, surveillance and prevention initiatives at all levels. There are efforts to make sure that water sources and food sources stay clean,” said Balachandra. “Our job is to look at the situation, anticipate the worst case scenario, and implement a strategy to avoid it,” he said.

The CDC team of experts from Atlanta includes Dr. Bill Davis, an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with CDC-Atlanta, and Dr. Lindsey McCrickard, an epidemiologist and board-certified preventive medicine veterinarian with substantial experience in international public health and outbreak response.

Davis works in the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch and has experience working on public health in conflict areas in Burma and served in the Peace Corps in Tanzania and Uganda. Dr. McCrickard works with CDC’s Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer and has led outbreak response activities in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

The team from Atlanta is working with expert staff from CDC Zimbabwe, including Elizabeth Gonese, a Public Health Specialist for Surveillance in the Strategic Information Branch, and Dr. Norah Vere, Laboratory Services Branch Chief.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting public health activities in the United States. It works with countries across the globe to strengthen the ability of governments and organizations to achieve their health goals and deepen the effectiveness and efficiency of their health systems.

In addition to improving capabilities for preparing for and responding to infectious diseases and emerging health threats in Zimbabwe, the organization has focused on building the country’s public health capacity through laboratory and other institutional support as well as research.- ZimPAS © January 24, 2017

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