In the most recent outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria nearly 40 people have died in 10 states across the country.
“The total number (of suspected cases) reported is 86 and 40 deaths, with a mortality rate of 43.2 percent,” said Prof Adewole, the Minister of Health. The first case of the current outbreak was reported from Bauchi in November, 2015. This was followed by cases reported by Kano State, and subsequently the other states. The affected states are: Bauchi, Nassarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Plateau, Gombe and Oyo. Lassa fever was first detected in Nigeria in 1969 in Lassa, Bornu state. The number of recorded cases peaked in 2012 when 1,723 cases with 112 fatalities were recorded.
Here is all you need to/have to know about Lassa fever.
What is Lassa fever?
Lassa fever or Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF) is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever which means it is similar to Ebola (not again!). It is caused by the Lassa fever virus with an incubation period of 6-21 days. Lassa virus is zoonotic (transmitted from animals), in that it spreads to humans from rodents, specifically multimammate mice (Mastomys natalensis) aka Rat/Eku/Oke/Bere. In these rodents, infection is in a persistent asymptomatic state. The virus is shed in their excreta (urine and feces), which can be converted into a fine spray in air.
• Contact with urine or droppings of an infected rat through respiratory or gastrointestinal tracts.
• Catching and preparing infected rats as bush meat.
• Direct contact with a sick person’s blood or body fluids, through mucous membranes, like eyes, nose, or mouth but this is rare.
Signs & Symptoms
• General body weakness and malaise
• Sore throat
• Breathing difficulty
• Nausea & vomiting
• Chest pain, abdominal and back pain
• Bleeding from mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract
• Low blood pressure
NB: So many diseases share these symptoms; so don’t jump into conclusions if you have any of these. Don’t forget, you have to have been exposed to the animal.
First is isolation (yeah…) and then supportive care which consists of maintenance of appropriate fluid and electrolyte balance, oxygenation and blood pressure.
Early treatment with antiviral drug (Ribavirin) has been found to be successful in the treatment of Lassa fever patients. Yes! It has a drug and the good news is that it is relatively inexpensive and it is readily available.
• Appropriate hand washing techniques (and the hand sanitizers too!)
• Good environmental hygiene
• Appropriate refuse disposal
• Store food in rodent-proof containers
• Avoid eating rodents and bush meat (at least till this epidemic is over)
• Avoid contact with blood and body fluids of infected people
• Healthcare workers should ensure appropriate protective mechanism while handling samples of sick persons.
• Report any suspected cases of Lassa fever to appropriate authorities’ especially for people with recent travels to affected states.
So, this is it.
We all need to calm down; our Minister of Health has the matter under control which is why it has not been declared a national emergency like that of Ebola. The Federal Government and Health Agencies have all hands on deck to ensure that this recent epidemic is curtailed.
They ask that we support them by taken preventive measures to avoid exposure to the virus. Also, any healthcare workers seeing a patient suspected to have Lassa fever should immediately contact the State Epidemiologist in the state ministry of health or call the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Federal Ministry of Health using the following numbers: 08093810105, 08163215251, 08031571667and 08135050005.
We survived Ebola virus and we will survive Lassa fever. Somebody say AMEN!