Lassa Fever: Another National Threat


Nigeria was among the seven countries that had a bitter thirst of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), in 2014. The outbreak of the epidemic which claimed a total of seven lives caused serious panic in the country, until it was carefully and completely eradicated which led to the country being certified as Ebola free by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, in December 2015, when the country was yet to overcome the accolades of recording another success in the eradication of Polio, Lassa Fever broke killing some persons. ALIJO SYLVESTER writes on this latest outbreak which has stirred similar fears as the EVD

Since the reported outbreak of the deadly Lassa Fever in Nigeria about six weeks ago in Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Gombe, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo and Oyo States with the Federal Government putting the number of reported cases at 93 with 41 deaths recorded and 14 confirmed by laboratories’ cases, there is palpable fear and apprehension across the land. Lassa is far more benign than Ebola, even if the symptoms—fever, vomiting, and bleeding from the mouth—are the same. As many as 300,000 people each year contract the viral disease, which is endemic to West Africa, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only about one per cent of the victims die from the illness, which is n0t airborne but usually spread by close contact with infected people and rodents. The current outbreak is believed to have started in December. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus, a member of the arenavirus family of viruses and was first described in 1969 in the town of Lassa, in Borno State, Nigeria. It is transmitted to humans from contacts with food or household items contaminated with rodent excreta. The disease is endemic in the rodent population in parts of West Africa. Lassa fever frequently infects people in West Africa resulting in 300,000 to 500,000 cases annually and causes about 5,000 deaths each year. The possibility of person-to-person infections with about 80 per cent of the cases being asymptomatic and laboratory transmission makes it a very dangerous disease, particularly in the hospital environment where there is absence of adequate infection control measures. Thus the marked importance of educating the entire populace of the presence of this awaiting time bomb present amidst us. Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who confirmed the outbreak of the deadly disease in Abuja at a media, put the number of the cases so far at 93 with 41 deaths, even as he urged Nigerians not to panic assuring that the situation is under control, with no new confirmed cases or deaths in the last 48 hours. According to him; “In the last 48 hours, the government raised a four-man expert committee, chaired by Professor Michael Asuzu, to visit Kano, Niger and Bauchi, the three most endemic states. The committee will embark on a fact finding mission, assess the current situation, document response experiences, identify gaps and proffer recommendations on how to prevent future occurrences.” The Health minister further explained that part of the long term response is the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee aimed at delivering a final blow on Lassa fever and other related diseases. The committee he said comprised of the ministers of Education, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Environment, Information and Culture as well as Health. Adewole also advised communities to improve on their hygiene, including food hygiene and food protection practices just as he urged the public to avoid contact with rodents as well as food contaminated with rat’s secretions and excretions. He said; “Avoid drying food in the open and along roadsides. It is also important to cover all foods to prevent rodent contamination. The public is hereby assured that government and other stakeholders are working tirelessly to address the outbreak and bring it to timely end.” The Health minister also said that affected states have been advised to intensify awareness creation on the signs and symptoms of the disease, adding that his ministry has ordered for the immediate release of adequate quantities of “ribavirin”, the specific antiviral drug for Lassa fever, to the affected states for prompt treatment of cases. Similarly, the Director of the country’s Center for Disease Control, Abdulsalami Nasidi, said health workers are also tracing victims and the people they touched, like they did during Nigeria’s brief experience with Ebola in 2014, to stop the spread.

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