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:
Image source: cdc.gov; http://nigeriahealthwatch.com/