Officials ease fears of U’hage hepatitis outbreak

Zandile Mbabela

HEALTH officials have moved to allay fears of a hepatitis A outbreak in parts of Uitenhage following the death last week of an eight-year-old girl from an informal settlement in the area.

Elriska Nel, a Grade 2 pupil at Jubilee Park Primary School who lived with her grandmother in the Joe Slovo informal settlement, died last Wednesday after being treated at the Uitenhage Provincial and Dora Nginza hospitals since September 2.

While a municipal outbreak response team (ORT) was tasked to attend to Elriska’s case, health officials stressed that this was an isolated incident and tests were being conducted on the girl’s siblings and close neighbours to see if it had spread.

Hepatitis A is deemed the least dangerous of hepatitis viruses and very rarely fatal. It is the inflammation of the liver from the hepatitis A virus and is contracted by, among other ways, consuming water or food that has been contaminated by faeces containing the virus.

Provincial Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said an outbreak response team had been activated, “although there was one isolated incident reported”.

Head of the ORT Dr Francois Fourie said the incident could not be declared an outbreak as only one case was reported.

Fourie said they were made aware of Elriska’s case on September 7, when the environmental health officer received a fax from the hospital.

He said attempts to go to the girl’s home on September 10 were unsuccessful due to digging taking place to set up a sewerage system in the area which still uses the bucket system.

Only yesterday did the team finally make contact with the family. Fourie said Elriska’s death due to hepatitis was very rare and that they would closely monitor the family.

“The health department [yesterday] assessed the home and tested the siblings, before referring them to clinic for more tests.

“This is really an unfortunate outcome of hepatitis A. It is horrible, but very rare and we will get a full report to be discussed at the ORT meeting this week.”

Jubilee Park Primary School principal Lorna Bosman said Elriska was last seen at school on August 31 – the day she was advised to seek medical help.

“The health department must have been alerted because we saw a lady coming here to give a talk on hepatitis A, how it is spread and what symptoms to look out for,” she said.

Joe Slovo resident Tollie Jantjies said he was not surprised that a child had contracted the virus due to the living conditions in the settlement.

“There is no running water here and we use the communal tap. We also use the bucket system that is sometimes not collected and [faecal] waste is thrown out at a designated ditch,” he said.

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