Fear has gripped residents of Owerri,the Imo state capital, as three persons have been confirmed dead from the dreaded Lassa Fever virus while seven others have been quarantined.
Confirming the incident yesterday to Daily Sun, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Angela Uwakwem, said that the three victims died of the virus after the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Owerri referred them to another health institution for possible cure.
She also added that another seven patients are on danger list, but assured that their was no cause for alarm as they are already quarantined.
Mrs Uwakwem also assured that the state government was working hard to establish the point of the first contact while appealing to the media to help enlighten the people.
“People should stop unnecessary shaking of hands, people should equally stop eating exposed food, the virus is caused by rats so people should be encouraged to make use of rat poison in their homes,” she advised.
The Chief Medical Director of the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, Dr Kingsley Achigbu,who also confirmed the incident, however, pointed out that the victims never died at the FMC, even when they were initially admitted there.
Dr Achigbu disclosed that the state governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has been informed of the outbreak of the virus and the number of victims.
According to a reliable source, the management of the FMC, Owerri had quickly referred the patients out of the hospital when the case overwhelmed it.
“It is unfortunate that the only Federal Government owned medical facility in Imo State does not have all it takes to combat a case of Lassa Fever. The case overwhelmed them and they had no other option than to refer the patients out of the hospital. Unfortunately, they died outside of the state,” the source said.
Meanwhile, Governor Okorocha has promised to take adequate steps to control further spread of the virus in the state.
He also warned residents of the state to avoid consuming raw garri and restrict staying in over crowded place.
The governor who gave the advice while briefing journalists in the state said: “This morning we woke up to hear that Lassa Fever has killed three persons and we also have seven cases of Lassa Fever patients and this number is too large for a state. And we are concerned about the speed of the spread.
“These cases were recorded in some hospitals, somewhere in Orlu and some other parts of the state. For this reason, we kindly advise that people should avoid over crowded areas, lessen the shaking of hands, and body contacts at this period.
“You are aware that Lassa Fever is caused by some species of rats that eat some food and people come to eat it. That is the major cause of this Lassa Fever.
The state is on it. The Ministry of Health has been adequately informed to take all necessary steps to curtail the spread. But as this number has risen this morning, we like to advise that people should avoid as much as possible some foods and body contacts, especially in schools and market areas.
“We will do everything humanly possible to make sure that this spread is curtailed. While government is taking this action, people should keep a clean and healthy environment at this time, avoid so many children staying in one place while government should handle the burial of those that died of Lassa Fever. As you know, Lassa Fever is deadly, but if any discovery is made, live can be saved.
“It’s nothing to worry about. We have always had issues of Lassa Fever, especially during period of extreme heat. We advise that people should report cases of fever of any sort to the nearest hospital and doctors by this development have been advised on what to do when such cases are reported.
“To all Imolites, this is to inform you that Lassa Fever is in Imo State and it is confirmed and we have lost lives as a result and we have more cases springing up, so this is a period that everybody must be more conscious of body contacts with people and overcrowded areas”.
Okorocha said that the government was watching the development closely, promising that it would be the last of it.
“But if we have more cases which we don’t hope to have, we might be forced to take some actions to stop all events of crowded places just to save lives. This is not the period for people to drink raw garri because you know garri is not cooked and people just pour water on garri and drink and when rat has urinated on the garri. So people are advised as much as possible to ensure that their food is properly cooked.
“Please let’s work together to save this ugly situation. I assure you that government is in control and we have created emergency centres for such cases to handle them. We are getting in touch with Federal Ministry of Health for supports in this regard.
All the identified cases especially in Orlu, have been isolated and we have told the doctors not to take any more patient and even those in the hospital would be quarantined until such a time we have confirmed they are now positive in any form or shape. We have three dead already in Imo State and we are making sure that such does not repeat itself,” Okorocha said.