Student deaths caused by botulism in Uganda confirmed

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A poisonous bacterial infection known as Botulism has broken out in Uganda, the US-based Centre for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed after tests done on a high school student who died last month.

The Ministry of Health said that Sarah Akoo, a senior student at Seeta High School in Mukono district, 20 kilometers east of the capital Kampala, died of Botulism, a disease which last hit the landlocked East African country 30 years ago.

“The test results from CDC in Atlanta, USA, on the two cases admitted at Mulago Hospital last month confirmed Botulism,” said Dr. Sam Zaramba, the director of general health services, in a statement on Tuesday.

“Botulism is a disease caused by toxic bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, transmitted by consumption of improperly prepared or handled food products,” Zaramba explains.

“Such food products include improperly fermented, salted or smoked fish and meat products, inadequately processed home-canned or bottled low acid foods such as vegetables, and in defective commercially canned foods.

Contaminated food

“Current evidence from the investigation suggests that the foods consumed by the affected girls a few hours or days before the onset of the illness was contaminated by the botulism toxin.

“Symptoms of botulism…include ‘double vision’, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, swallowing with difficulty and muscle weakness,” Dr. Zaramba said.

The ministry ruled out earlier speculation that the deceased student must have been a victim of food contaminated by poison at her Seeta High School’s kitchen.

“If it was the case there would have been mass infections among the student population,” Health ministry averred.

Not contagious

Since the confirmed test, epidemiologists and other health specialists at CDC and World Health Organisation (WHO) are carrying out further investigations to establish the potential source of intoxication.

Dr. Zaramba said that botulism was not contagious and could be prevented through proper handling of foods including proper refrigeration, avoiding the purchase of canned foods that are expired, or damaged, bulging or in perforated containers.

“The toxin can be inactivated by boiling food for at least 10 minutes,” he said, calling on parents, school administration and students to exercise care while preparing foodstuffs.

Health file  The lack of education and political will, poverty, out-moded traditional beliefs, to mention but a few, have been widely blamed for causing severe and sometimes unwarranted health catastrophies of genocidal proportions on the African continent. Child killer diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, water borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, among other preventable ailments have killed millions in their wake. As rightly said by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, on May 13, 2000 "More people (...) died of Aids in the past year (1999-2000, ndlr) in Africa than in all the wars on the continent".
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