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Halting the Lassa fever spread

It is quite unfortunate that the Lassa fever disease, which broke out early this year, has spread to about 19 states. The casualty figure has risen from 110 to 117. Earlier, about 35 new cases had been recorded in five states as well as 40 fresh suspected infections in 18 states as at March 6. Without doubt, this year’s outbreak is unprecedented due to high number of confirmed cases and deaths.

On the 110 deaths earlier recorded, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said 78 were in positive-confirmed cases, eight in probable cases and 24 in negative cases with Case Fatality Rate (CFR) in confirmed and probable cases at 23.9 per cent. But as at March 13, the CFR increased from 23.9 to 24 per cent.

The NCDC also revealed that about 3,126 contacts had been identified from 18 active states of which 1586 are currently being followed up. It also said that 1485 had completed 21 days follow up and 21 of the 47 who had symptomatic contacts tested positive from three states. These include Edo 11, Ondo 7, and Ebonyi 3. The report said that the predominant age group affected ranged 21–40 years with the male to female ratio for confirmed cases as 2.1. Of the 85 percent of all confirmed cases, Edo had (44 percent), Ondo (25 percent) and Ebonyi (16 percent). So far, 19 states had recorded at least one confirmed case across 55 local council areas.

The cases currently on admission as at March 6, according to NCDC were at Irrua Specialist Hospital, Edo (35); Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Owo, Ondo (18); and Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki  (FETHA), Ebonyi (16). NCDC pointed out  that all isolation beds at the treatment facilities were occupied.

It is good that the NCDC is reportedly collaborating with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other teams to scale up response in the affected states. We also commend other centres both foreign and local that are helping to halt further spread of the disease. We call on the affected states to increase efforts to ensure that the spread of the disease is stopped forthwith.

Public health officials have explained that Lassa fever is a viral infection caused by the Lassa fever virus. The virus is primarily transmitted to human through contact with excreta from rats. The disease occurs through out the year, but more cases are recorded during the dry season. The disease can be spread from rat to human by direct contact with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats. Lassa fever is also spread by eating food or drinking water contaminated with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats or humans.

Also, it can spread through contact with infected person’s blood, urine, saliva. Symptoms of the diseases, include high fever, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, back pain, cough, chest pain, abdominal pain, swelling of the face and bleeding through nose, ears, eyes and mouth. We must reiterate that the best way to prevent Lassa fever is by promoting public hygiene and preventing rats from entering homes. Healthcare givers should always apply standard infection prevention and control precautions when caring for patients.

All cases of Lassa fever must be reported to the nearest health facility for prompt diagnosis and treatment. Although the cost of treatment is high, the good news is that the Federal Government is taking care of the treatment of those already affected by the disease. We urge all stakeholders in the health sector to work in concert to contain the rampaging disease.

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Online Editor: Aderonke Bello
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