Checking outbreak of Lassa fever

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As Nigerians are facing the daily grind of poverty and parlous economy, the country may soon find itself in the grips of another lurking danger. That danger is no other than Lassa fever. Even though the disease has not attain life threatening dimension to the population, it would be foolhardy for the authorities to dismiss the danger posed by Lassa fever with a wave of the hand. That is why we are raising the alarm now. Just two weeks ago, there were reported cases of Lassa fever outbreaks in Kano and Taraba states.
Two days ago, another case of Lassa fever outbreak was reported in Rivers State claiming the lives of a nursing mother and her two-week-old baby. According to Rivers State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Odagme, “the government is working with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to prevent outbreak of the disease in the state, even as contact tracing and sensitisation of healthcare providers has begun to address the disease”.
Before then, the Director, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, Prof. Abdulsalam Nasidi, admitted that five cases and three deaths were recorded from preliminary reports in Kano and Taraba states. More ominously, Prof. Nasidi described the fatality rate as high. Due to danger posed by the disease, drugs and other supplies had been dispatched to the affected states to help manage the outbreak.
Medical experts have described Lassa fever as an acute viral haemorrhagic illness of one to four week’s duration that occurs in West Africa. They posit that it is transmitted to humans through contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or fecal matter. According to a fact sheet from the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in hospitals lacking adequate infection prevention and control measures.
Lassa fever is known to be endemic in Benin, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and parts of Nigeria,while the incubation period ranges from six to 21 days. Moreover, onset of the disease is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, and malaise. After a few days, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, and abdominal pain may follow.
In severe cases facial swelling, fluid in the lung cavity, bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure may develop, while protein may be noted in the urine, even as death usually occurs within 14 days of onset in fatal cases. Incidentally, this is not the first time Nigeria would be witnessing an outbreak of Lassa fever. In 2012, there were 397 suspected cases of the disease in Borno, Gombe, Yobe, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Edo, Ondo, Rivers, Anambra and Lagos states, with 40 fatalities.
Ironically, the virus was discovered in 1969, in Lassa, Plateau State when two nurses in the town died mysteriously. It was later found that the disease is transmitted by rodents, specifically multimammate mice that is ubiquitous in human households and eaten as a delicacy in some areas.
We are therefore calling on the health authorities to mount widespread sensitisation campaign on the dangers posed by rodents and the need to keep them out of homes and food supplies. It is also pertinent to stress the need in maintaining personal hygiene, disposing of garbage properly, and keeping cats. Moreover, Family members should always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons.

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