Like the unwanted visitor that it is, death came knocking in the form a strange illness ravaging the rural community of Oye-Obi in Obi Local Government area of Benue Benue State.
The strange illness which has claimed the lives of some persons and left many others hospitalized, according to people from the community, would come with symptoms such as headache, internal heat, Diarrhea, vomiting, Stomach ache, Weakness of the body and swollen stomach.
The Igede National Youth Council first drew the attention of government at all levels to a strange sickness ravaging Oye-Obi, a boundary settlement between Obi and Oju local government areas of the state.
President elect of the Council, Com. Andyson Iji Egbodo had, in a statement made available to our reporter on January 29, 2020 said the strange ailment has so far killed four persons within two weeks.
He gave the names of the four deceased victims as Happiness Ogbu, Onah Ogbedu, Andy Edu and Wisdom Agwo while he said developed the same symptoms of Headache, Internal heat, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Stomach ache, Weakness of the body and swollen stomach and all died alike.
As at today, there’s controversy as to the exact number of deaths arising from the strange illness as different persons have continued to give varying number of death and those hospitalized as a result of the illness.
While the Senator Representing Benue South Senatorial District, Comrade Abba Moro stated on the floor of the Senate that 15 people have so far died from the strange illness, the state Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Dr. Sunday Ongbabo who spoke with our reporter by telephone on Friday said only four death had been recorded from the illness.
On his part, Dr. Emmanuel Eru, a former Commissioner of Health and human Services in the state and and Igede by tribe told our reporter that six persons died so far while the Igede Youth Council President Elect, Egbodo disclosed to our reporter that 10 people have been killed by the illness.
Also, our correspondent could not get the exact number of those who were hospitalized as all the people were giving different figures ranging from two, four, six, 15, 104 and 150 persons whom they said had been infected and hospitalized in various hospitals in Obi, Oju and Makurdi local government et areas.
However, the Igede National Youths Council who revealed that health authorities in the local government had been briefed, called on the federal and State government to as a matter of urgency do all within its powers to arrest the situation.
“We are not resting on our part in the area of mass mobilization and awareness campaign on how to prevent it’s spread.”
Strange sickness not Lassa fever
But respite came when the authorities of the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) confirmed that the strange illness was not Lassa fever but a water borne disease from contaminated water wall.
Dr. Eru, a staff of BSUTH, in a statement, said there is no outbreak of new disease at Oye Obi, Oju and Obi Local government areas as being speculated.
He noted that what happened was a water borne disease from contaminated water wall adding that victims who were tested at BSUTH did not show evidence of lassa viruses or any contagious disease.
Eru therefore advised the community members and the general public to be calm and not panic.
Corroborating Eru’s statement, the State Commissioner for Health and Human Services, Dr Sunday Ongbabo, on Thursday January 30, 2020 confirmed that the deaths of four persons in Oye-Obi community was as a result of the consumption of chemically-contaminated water.
Ongbabo who led a medical team to the village also confirmed that some of the patients have been brought to the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) in Makurdi for close monitoring however harped on the need for the villagers to immediately look for alternative sources of potable water for their domestic use.
“We are at the community right now as I speak to you; we have transferred those who are down with the sickness to the teaching hospital for thorough monitoring.
“Since the victims showed same symptoms particularly, diarrhoea, we have advised the people to stop using their source of water because the water is likely contaminated.
“However, we will take the water for analysis before we can arrive at anything, but right now, we have advised them not to use the water or fish from there.”
Also, when our reporter asked the Health Commissioner for an update on the matter especially after Senator Abba Moro raised an alarm on the outbreak of strange illness ravaging the community on the floor of the senate, he said the state government had again sent some senior officials to the affected area on more fact finding mission.
Dr Ongbabo who spoke in a telephone chat on Friday February 7, 2020 said that the ministry had dispatched team to the area to interact with the villagers to know the latest about the strange illness.
The commissioner who said that the ministry had visited the affected area twice in the past two weeks said that the four patients transferred from Oju to the University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi had all been discharged.
He said test had been carried out on the four patients who were brought to the BSUTH and they all tested negative to Lassa fever but that sample from the only source of water to the Benue community which is suspected to have been contaminated had been taken to Enugu and the result of the laboratory test was still being awaited at the time of this report.
“We are expecting report of the water sample analysis we sent to Enugu to confirm if the source of water in the community was poisoned or not.
“But as I talk to you, the four patients we transferred to the State University Teaching Hospital have been discharged from hospital and were tested negative for Lassa fever.
“However, with the report from Abuja on Friday we have sent our officers to the Benue community to interact with the residents but they are yet to return. So, for now we don’t have any new case from that area”, the commissioner said.
It was gathered that the whole issue started when a yet to be identified fisherman poured a strong chemical into river Oyongo to kill fish for marketing and consumption not knowing that the chemical is a killer chemical.
When our reporter visited the state Ministry of health on Friday afternoon, some medical personnel including the state Epidomologist, Dr. Samuel Ngishi were seen trying to travel to Oye-Obi community to join other health personnel who were said to already be on ground.
At the time of this report, our reporter gathered that the state government was preparing to hold a world press conference on the matter on Tuesday after the medical team who were sent to the affected area must have returned and given their report.