Zimbabwe: U.S. health agency intensifies typhoid fever outbreak investigation

Harare, March 29, 2012: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has dispatched a multi-disciplinary team to Harare to support the Ministry of Health and City of Harare response team with epidemiologic investigation, improved surveillance, water testing, and provision of laboratory supplies.

CDC’s Rachel Slayton

CDC’s Rachel Slayton

“We have some additional studies that we are doing, including helping evaluate the distribution of non-food items that were given out by NGO partners in response to the outbreak.  We are hoping to see what the coverage of those items was, what worked, and what can be improved upon for the next time, so that we can help direct those donations moving forward,” said CDC’s Rachel Slayton in Harare on Tuesday.

Slayton is part of a seven member multi-disciplinary team involving two microbiologists from Kenya and a South African-based Zimbabwean field epidemiology student.  The team arrived in Zimbabwe last week as part of efforts by the Atlanta-based global health agency to assist Zimbabwe to contain the typhoid outbreak.

“We have also been looking at the value of the diagnostic test to see how well it performs in the field.  If the test works well, it allows doctors to diagnose patients more quickly than traditional methods which could help improve patient outcomes,” said Slayton.

CDC collaborates with health experts to create the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health.  This is done through health promotion, prevention of disease, injury and disability, and preparedness for new health threats.

CDC’s Zimbabwe program was established in 2000 and works to support and sharpen the policies, guidelines, standards, and programs of the Zimbabwean government in their fight against HIV and AIDS (with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR) and other diseases by applying scientific findings. The office is staffed by highly trained epidemiologists, medical officers, public health specialists, and laboratory specialists, who provide essential technical and administrative assistance to implement health programs in Zimbabwe.

“We brought supplies for blood cultures, which are the gold standard diagnoses of typhoid fever; rapid test kits that we are validating; and the necessary susceptibility testing supplies, so that patients’ samples can be fully worked up…,” said Slayton.  Slayton and fellow epidemiologist Katie O’Connor, both based at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, were in the country in December 2011.  She said the team also brought water testing supplies to check for e-coli and chlorine test kits for household surveys.

This is the second CDC delegation to visit Zimbabwe since the outbreak of typhoid was noted on October 10, 2011.