Sunday, April 19, 2015

Updating The Nigerian `Mystery Illness’ Story



# 9957


Four days ago, in Reports Of An Unidentified, Rapidly Fatal Illness In Ondo, Nigeria, we looked at reports of a horrific disease outbreak in Nigeria - propelled by Twitter and social media accounts, often accompanied by dubious photos of purported `victims’ -  which induced the local MOH to activate their emergency situation room in Response To `Mystery Illness’ In Ondo, Nigeria.

Although testing for bacterial and viral causes (including Ebola) was undertaken, from the beginning the symptoms of sudden blindness, facial swelling, and rapid death were more consistent with a toxic exposure or poisoning.


Over the past 48 hours we’ve seen statements from the Ondo MOH that no additional cases have been reported (supporting the idea of a non-infectious cause), and of negative testing for the `usual’ viral and bacterial suspects. 


While there has been a good deal of speculation over what type of toxin might be behind this outbreak (methanol, and the ritualistic use of the Calabar bean have been mentioned), overnight, Gregory Hartl, spokesperson for the World Health Organization, tweeted that they are now looking at herbicides as a potential cause.


While the exact cause must await toxicology reports, and an epidemiological investigation will reveal how they were exposed, it seems pretty certain we are dealing with a poisoning or toxin exposure, not an infectious disease.


One of the darker aspects to this already bleak story has been the willingness of hundreds of people on twitter, and in social media, to post or re-tweet dozens of graphic (and apparently, mostly fake) pictures of supposed `victims’. 


A disturbing trend we saw during the Ebola outbreak last summer, a practice  that Dr. Ian Mackay called out on his blog (see Fake/wrong Ebola virus disease images...).


Sadly, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, it appears that a disturbing picture is worth at least a thousand re-tweets.

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