The increasing incidence of Lassa fever in seven states in the country is worrisome. The Federal Government raised the alarm over the resurgence of the deadly disease in December last year. It also advised that more attention be paid to its prevention and treatment. The government confirmed the death of six persons out of 19 confirmed cases in seven states, namely: Ogun, Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, Edo, Ondo and Rivers.
Details of the spread of the disease as given by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) showed that Ogun had two cases with 100 percent fatality; Taraba, six cases with one death; Nasarawa, two cases with zero death; Edo, one case with no death; Ondo, a case with no death; and Plateau, six cases and four deaths. The NCDC further revealed that Taraba and Plateau were worst hit with 63.15 percent of the cases and 66.7 percent of deaths.
The agency is working closely with the affected states to ensure appropriate response to the cases, as well as social mobilisation activities and sensitisation of health workers. It advised Nigerians to keep their food safe from rats and their excreta, and enjoined health workers to adhere to universal precautions to prevent Lassa fever transmission in healthcare settings.
According to medical experts, Lassa fever is an endemic disease discovered and classified as one of the emerging diseases around the 1950s. The first case of the disease was recorded in Lassa town in Borno State of Nigeria. The disease is named after the town in which it killed some Christian health workers in 1969.
Lassa fever is a zoonotic viral infection spread by multi-mammate rats. These rats have two rows of breasts called mastomys. They live in bushes around homes. Human beings get infected with this virus through contamination of their food and other edibles by the urine and other body excretions of these rats. The spread of Lassa fever is higher during dry season because of bush burning which drives these rats from the bushes into homes. Drying foodstuff on the roadsides and around houses provides avenues for the spread of the disease.
Majority of Lassa fever cases pass unnoticed with mild fevers, body aches, tiredness and loss of appetite. But in severe cases, there will also be sore throat, cough, vomiting, diarrhea and unexplained bleeding from different body openings such as the nose, ears, anus and vagina, as the virus damages victims’ body organs. Early reporting of the disease can enhance the chances of survival while late reporting increases mortality rates.
We commend the Federal Government for raising the alarm on the spread of the disease and enjoin it to ensure that it is not allowed to spread beyond the seven affected states. Government must put measures in place to contain the disease. The public must be enlightened about the disease and how to prevent it. There is need for high public hygiene and the elimination of bush rats in homes and their surroundings. Food should not be put where bush rats can contaminate them with their urine and other excretions. Farmers should stop bush burning as it enhances the movement of rats from bushes into homes. People should stop drying food items such as cassava, yam and plantain chips on roadsides, to avoid their contamination by Lassa fever-carrying multi-breasted rats.
All cases of Lassa fever must be reported to the nearest government health facility. Health care workers should adhere strictly to universal precautions against the spread of the disease in hospital settings. All tiers of government must work together to combat and eliminate this Lassa fever epidemic.