As of January 20, the federal ministry of health reports a total of 239 cases and 82 deaths (confirmed and suspected) spread across 18 states namely; Bauchi, Niger, Taraba, Rivers, Kano, Oyo, Edo, Plateau, Nassarawa, Sokoto, FCT, Ondo, Delta, Gombe, Osun, Kogi, Lagos and Ekiti.
What is it and how is it transmitted?
Just like Ebola, Lassa fever is a viral haemorrhagic fever and is prevalent in certain West African Countries, with strong presence in Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Without going into detailed Lassa fever pathology, as I am not qualified to do so, here is a brief summary and recommended prevention steps gleaned from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) website.
Lassa fever is transmitted by a breed of multi-mammate rats which can be found in domestic settings. Humans contract the disease though contact with food or other materials contaminated with droppings and urine of these rodents. Others are; inhaling particles contaminated with these rodents excretions and the actual consumption of these rodents, as practised by some people. There is also person-to-person transmission through contact with virus in the blood tissue, secretions or excretions of infected humans.
Symptoms often begin with slight fever, general malaise, weakness, and headache. This may progress to more serious symptoms including hemorrhaging (in gums, eyes, or nose, as examples), respiratory distress, repeated vomiting, and facial swelling, pain in the chest, back, and abdomen, and shock.
Neurological problems have also been described, including hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis. Death may occur within two weeks after symptom onset due to multi-organ failure.
The most common complication of Lassa fever is deafness. Various degrees of deafness occur in approximately one-third of infections, and in many cases hearing loss is permanent.
What can you do? Prevention and control
Prevention of Lassa fever is much dependent on good community and domestic hygiene practices aimed at discouraging rodents from entering homes or coming in contact with food. Some of the effective measures in this regard include:
- Storing grains and other foodstuffs in rodent-proof containers
- Adopting the good practice of washing the tops of all canned foods and drinks before opening for consumption
- Blocking all rat hideouts and potential entry points
- Disposing of garbage in properly designated places, far from the house
- Keeping food preparation and storage areas clean and generally maintaining clean households
- Handwashing especially after coming in contact with infected person
- Report to the nearest clinic once symptoms are observed
Response from the ministry of health
While the response so far has been fair, we feel the rate of prevalence, high casualty figures and the mode of transmission through the (pervasive) domestic rat population, makes this something that deserves a proper state of emergency approach. With a doctor dead in Port Harcourt from patient exposure/infection and a hospital in Lagos sealed from having being reported to have treated a case, we expect the ministry of health to do the following:
- Designate some states and cities high risk zones
- Set up special clinics and quarantine centres
- Support private and public hospitals by providing special sanitary materials and protective wear for medical practitioners
- Work with stakeholders in raising environmental hygiene awareness and developing a programme for domestic rat population control
- Give this outbreak the same or more rigour and attention than was done for Ebola by the last administration
Here are some hotlines for reporting suspected cases:
Click to access Lassa_Fever_Fact_Sheet.pdf
Image source: cdc.gov; http://nigeriahealthwatch.com/
January 18, 2016 at 9:07 pm
We have a LASS Fever resarch center at Irrua secialist teaching hospital in edo state, but its not funded, not supported actively..Ebola is endemic in Nigeria, but we oved quickly against Ebola becos of dollar dollar mentality…My opinion…forgetting that we had our own Hemorhagic fever for which we had set up structures to contain,,in a fairly systemic manner, but as usual, its not our priority
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January 18, 2016 at 9:15 pm
We need to develop a proper system mentality that is proactive and thrives on continuous improvement. You can imagine the CDC in the US having more information on a disease that is not even prevalent in their country than us. The website of the health ministry has almost nothing. This fire brigade approach will get us nowhere. Thanks Chuka.
January 18, 2016 at 9:26 pm
I meant..Lassa is Endemic in Nigeria, but we moved quickly against Ebola becos of dolar dolar mentality
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January 26, 2016 at 4:01 pm
The government should no longer treat this issue with levity. More awareness is needed.
January 26, 2016 at 5:23 pm
True. For something that has shown more prevalence and fatality rate than Ebola, we should be on emergency mode.
January 26, 2016 at 9:35 pm
I just saw a colleague who complained of the unavailability of simple/basic supplies like proper suits and bio hazard disposal facilities. It is impossible for health workers to be motivated when the basic safeguards arent even provided. Proper gloves, and consumables proper Infection prevention implements-Gloves, nose 3M Nose masks, Goggles etc. We mustnt only work when the eyes of the world are on us..These things are so basic that you wonder wether our budgetting isnt a copy and paste one…..No one is thinking or projecting
January 27, 2016 at 12:29 pm
Government definitely has to partner the health sector in this on two fronts. Provision and regulation. Provision for public hospitals and regulation (standards, audits/inspection and sanction) for all.