Several news outlets have reported a spike in Typhoid fever in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. The majority of cases have been in a densely populated area in the city’s oldest district of Mbare. The exact figure of cases is difficult to confirm; however several news outlets have reported around 200 people have been infected and two people, one a 13 year old girl, have died.
Typhoid fever is caused by a bacteria known as Salmonella enterica typhi. The disease is spread when people eat food or drink beverages that have been contaminated with human feces containing the bacteria. In the Mbare district of Harare, sanitation quality is poor and the onset of unusually heavy rains have led to flooding and increased risk of contact with contaminated water. The Harare City Council issued a typhoid alert on December 30, 2016 and advised citizens to boil drinking water and practice good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of disease. The City Council also issued a ban on street vendors selling food items in the Harare Metropolitan area in an effort to contain the spread of disease. In statement released on January 10th, City Council officials said that “preliminary investigations have shown that the key drivers of typhoid and any other water borne diseases are issues related to personal hygiene, unregulated vending of foodstuffs…and inadequate water supplies.” Council officials also stated that while the ban is expected to receive a “fierce backlash,” their drastic actions are “being taken with the interests of the majority at heart.”
Zimbabwe is no stranger to outbreaks of waterborne diseases. A typhoid fever outbreak in 2011-2012 had 4,185 suspected cases, 1,788 hospitalizations and two reported deaths. Outbreak investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited overcrowding in residential areas stressed municipal water supplies, leading residents to use untreated water sources as a potential source for the outbreak. In 2008-2009 a cholera outbreak had 11,735 reported cases and 484 deaths. Fifty percent of the cases from that outbreak were reported from a high density suburb in Harare.
The CDC reports the best way for individuals to protect themselves from typhoid fever is to avoid foods and beverages that may be contaminated with bacteria and to get vaccinated against typhoid fever.