No fewer than 19 new confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) were recorded in Ondo State in the last 12 days.
The state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, disclosed this on Monday while briefing reporters on the pandemic in Akure, the state capital.
He noted that his administration was expending more energy and resources in improving the capacity of the Infectious Disease Hospitals to cope with the challenges.
The new cases included a journalist, a healthcare worker, and an American citizen who was prevented from travelling back to the United States due to the lockdown.
“We now have 43 total confirmed cases,” said Akeredolu. “The local government areas with confirmed cases are Akure South (22), Odigbo (three), Owo (three), Ose (three), Akure North (two), Ondo West (five), Okitipupa (two), Akoko South East (one), Ile-Oluji/Okeigbo (one), Ifedore (one).”
Governor Akeredolu added that 14 patients were one admission, seven dead, and 22 others have recovered and been discharged.
He revealed that the cases were among the 568 total suspected cases reported, although 663 samples were collected and 655 laboratory results have been received.
According to the governor, the government is tracing 113 contacts of infected patients and the journalist is the 32nd confirmed case.
On the other hand, he explained that the American citizen who is of Akure origin came home to visit his family and was caught up in Nigeria by the lockdown.
“Having been home for not less than two months, he fell ill sometimes last week, showing symptoms of COVID-19. He was immediately taken to the hospital where he was referred to the UNIMEDTH Ondo for further examination.
“His sample was taken to confirm his COVID-19 status. He died before his result came,” Governor Akeredolu revealed.
He added, “The 34th case, 54, is a female healthcare worker who works in a private facility and presented with a runny nose.”
The governor, therefore, urged the residents to adhere to the precautionary measures against the spread of COVID-19.
He listed them to include social and physical distancing, use of facemasks, washing of hands with water and soap, use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser, as well as travel restrictions.
Could a common vaccine used for decades to protect against tuberculosis help shield health workers from COVID-19?
While developing a specific immunisation against the coronavirus sweeping the planet will likely take many months, researchers are studying the potential benefits of the BCG shot, which many people around the world receive as children.
Laboratories and pharmaceutical firms are racing to find medicines to tackle COVID-19, which has infected more than a million people, killed at least 50,000 and for which there is currently no known treatment, vaccine or cure.
They are also looking at repurposing existing drugs.
Experts remain cautious
“We have known for decades that BCG has non-specific beneficial effects”, in that it protects against diseases other than the one for which it was created, Camille Locht, of the French public health research institute Inserm, told AFP.
Children vaccinated with BCG suffer less from other respiratory illnesses, it is used to treat certain bladder cancers and it could protect against asthma and autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.
Researchers want to test whether the tuberculosis vaccine could have a similar effect against the new coronavirus, either by reducing the risk of being infected, or by limiting the severity of the symptoms.
In France, where the BCG vaccine was compulsory until 2007, “most of the study participants will have already had a first vaccination”, but the protective effect of this decreases over time, said Locht.
Because healthcare workers are on the front lines of the efforts to tackle COVID-19, they should be the “first target” if there is any benefit found with the BCG vaccine, said Locht, who is finalising details for a clinical trial in France.
But experts remain cautious on the potential of the BCG to provide protection.
‘Military exercise in peacetime’
“That is exactly the reason for this research,” says Mihai Netea, professor of experimental internal medicine at Radboud University in the Netherlands, which recently announced a clinical trial, with the University of Utrecht involving hundreds of healthcare workers.
This will see 500 medical professionals receive the BCG jab and 500 get a placebo.
“If during this epidemic fewer people in the BCG-vaccinated group would drop out due to illness, this would be an encouraging result,” added Netea, a specialist in “trained immunity”.
This is a relatively new concept based on the discovery that our innate immune response — the body’s generalised defences — also has a memory, alongside the acquired immunity, which develops antibodies after coming into contact with a specific pathogen.
The BCG vaccine does not directly protect against the coronavirus, but provides a boost to the immune system which may lead to improved protection and a milder infection, Radboud university said of the study.
The idea is that the innate immune system can be prepared, or “trained” to better combat attacks, thanks in particular to live attenuated vaccines, such as BCG or measles, which contained a weakened sliver of the original pathogen.
In the case of COVID-19, in addition to infection by the virus itself, some patients have also suffered excessive immune responses, with the uncontrolled production of pro-inflammatory proteins, cytokines.
“Vaccination, in particular against BCG, might help to better orchestrate this inflammatory immune response,” said Laurent Lagrost, Inserm research director who works on links between inflammation and the immune system.
The vaccine acts as a “military exercise in peacetime” so that the body can “fight the enemy effectively in wartime,” he said in an interview this week with French broadcaster BFMTV.
A separate trial of the BCG vaccine has also been launched in Australia, with some 4,000 health workers, by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
Microbiologist Locht wants to harmonise the criteria of the French study with that planned in four Spanish hospitals, in order to better compare their results.
However, researchers in Spain, instead of using the BCG, would like to try a new tuberculosis vaccine developed by the biotech firm Biofabri.
This vaccine candidate, whose safety has already been demonstrated, should offer “better protection”, said Carlos Martin, professor of microbiology at the University of Zaragoza, because it is “developed from a strain isolated in humans”.
In contrast, he said the BCG is prepared from a strain of the bacteria that infects cattle, and two genes very important to the virulence of tuberculosis have been deactivated in the vaccine candidate.
Another advantage of the new vaccine is that it is made in Europe and could be quickly made available, while the BCG suffers from strong supply tensions and using it for adults against COVID-19 could deprive children of it in countries where tuberculosis remains endemic.
In Germany, the Max Planck Institute for Infectious Biology is also preparing a trial with a genetically-modified vaccine candidate, developed by the Serum Institute of India.
In coordination with these countries, Inserm announced on Thursday that clinical trials could also be launched in Africa, where health systems are expected to come under acute pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.
Villagers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo killed a health worker engaged in the fight against a major Ebola outbreak and looted a treatment centre, according to an official report seen Monday by AFP.
“Part of the population of Vusahiro village, in the health sector of Mabalako (North Kivu province), rose up and attacked the local team fighting back against Ebola,” said the daily health ministry bulletin dated Sunday. It said the incident happened on Saturday.
“A hygiene agent in the team for the prevention and control of infections died of his injuries during his transfer to the hospital,” health authorities said in the bulletin.
“The health centre in Vusahiro was trashed and looted and three village houses were burned down,” the bulletin added.
In a separate incident, the triage centre at Valumba in the Butembo health sector, was vandalised overnight Saturday to Sunday, the report said.
The Ebola outbreak declared in eastern DR Congo last August has killed more than 1,200 people in two provinces — Ituri and North Kivu — and new cases have surged in recent weeks.
Efforts to tackle the crisis have been hampered both by militia attacks on treatment centres, in which some staff have been killed, and by the hostility of some local people to the medical teams.
Since the outbreak began, attacks on health centres have killed four people and wounded dozens more, including patients, according to a tally released by the health ministry last Friday.
Militia Attacks, Local Hostility
North Kivu has suffered from massacres blamed mainly on the Ugandan Islamist rebels of Alliance of Democratic Forces, according to Godefroid Ka Mana, an academic expert with the Pole Institute think tank in provincial capital Goma.
In April, a Cameroonian doctor working for the World Health Organization was murdered while taking part in a meeting at a university teaching hospital.
Working with the international medics are local health teams formed after DR Congo’s 10th outbreak of the highly contagious and often fatal viral disease. They are made up of villagers trained in measures to battle Ebola.
But some locals are hostile to the prevention protocols enforced by international teams, such as the special measures imposed for the burial of Ebola victims.
These measures, designed to prevent loved ones being infected, rule out the traditional wakes and funerals.
The WHO has accused local politicians of turning people against the health workers.
In the meantime, the deaths continue. Since the outbreak started, “the cumulative number of cases is 1,912, 1,818 confirmed and 94 probable,” the health ministry said Friday.
“In total, there were 1,277 deaths (1,183 confirmed and 94 probable) and 496 people healed,”