Authorities in Sao Tome and Principe have tentatively identified a disease outbreak on the islands as a “necrotizing cellulite,” but they aren’t yet sure how to treat it.
“It involves the infection of the skin that then rapidly develops for necrosis, with the death of the tissue,” explained Maria Tomé Palmer, director of Sao Tome health care, in a recent interview with Portugal’s Observador. She said they understood the mechanism but did not know what pathological agent was causing the infection.
Patient wounds appear on the lower legs and feet, doctors report, with more cases in men than women and reports from all districts of the country. Patient infections are treated with antibiotics.
Officials offer conflicting information about fatalities, with one saying there have been up to eight deaths while others insist there are no fatalities.
Nearly 2,000 people have been infected since October 2016, with the most recent spike in cases seen in February – although there are some discrepancies in the reporting of overall cases. Portuguese doctors, including infectious disease and epidemiology specialists with the Ricardo Jorge Institute, have been working with the government of Sao Tome and Principe try to identify the disease.
The World Health Organization also has been investigating, health officials said. Tissue samples have been sent to Cameroon, Benin, Portugal and Belgium to try to identify the disease in specialized laboratories there. A specialist from Benin, where a similar flesh-eating condition occurs, also has been working on the outbreak, but experts have not concluded it is the same infection.
Experts have considered Buruli ulcer as a diagnosis, but it remains unconfirmed.