The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has confirmed the increase in the number of Lassa fever cases reported in the country since the beginning of the year.
Between January 1 and 19, a total of 398 suspected cases were reported from various states across the country, leading to 24 deaths.
According to the weekly situation report for week three (January 1 to 19) released on Thursday, 163 cases of the disease have so far been confirmed in nine states with 24 deaths recorded.
This figure is expected to rise as more states have reported cases of the disease. PREMIUM TIMES reported the announcement by Kano State on Wednesday that three people died from the disease. Also, Enugu State on Wednesday confirmed one death from the disease.
Lassa fever remains a major public health challenge in West Africa with Nigeria bearing the highest burden.
The disease occurs all year round. However, more cases are usually recorded during the dry season (November through May)
Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF) caused by Lassa virus. The natural carrier of the virus is the multimammate rat, but, the disease is also also spread through human to human transmission.
This is why health agencies embark on contact tracing of persons who have been suspected to be in contact with patients.
Lassa fever is transmitted from the excreta or urine of the multimammate rat. Anyone who is suspected of being in contact with a Lassa patient needs to be presented to the health facilities within a period of 21 days.
The number of new confirmed cases in week three increased from 64 to 81, mainly in six states: Ondo, Edo, Delta, Taraba, Plateau and Bauchi.
“As at the reporting week, nine states have recorded at least one confirmed case across 32 local government areas,” the report highlighted.
According to NCDC, the predominant age-group affected is 11-40 years and the male to female ratio for confirmed cases is 1:1.
Call For Caution
With the increasing number of Lassa fever cases in the country and death among health workers, NCDC has called on all health workers to ensure caution when dealing with patients, to prevent person to person transmission.
The agency also advised doctors, nurses and other health workers providing direct patient care to ensure standard precautions.
To reduce the risk of Lassa fever, NCDC advised all healthcare workers to practice and maintain standard precautions at all times while handling patients and body fluids.
The agency also said health workers should always use the right equipment based on the procedure to be performed, irrespective of provisional diagnosis of the patient.
It also urged doctors to maintain a high index of suspicion for Lassa fever by testing all suspected cases of malaria using Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) and not assuming that all fevers are due to malaria.
Signs and symptoms
The early stages of Lassa fever present symptoms similar to febrile illness such as malaria.
Symptoms of the disease generally include fever, headache, sore throat, general body weakness, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pains, chest pain, and in severe cases, unexplainable bleeding from ears, eyes, nose, mouth, vagina, anus and other body orifices. It could also present persistent bleeding from sites of intravenous cannulation.
Early diagnosis and treatment increase a patient’s chances of survival.
Lassa fever is spread through:
1. Direct contact with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rodents.
2. Ingesting food and drinks contaminated with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats.
3. Contact with objects, household items or surfaces contaminated with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats.
4. Person-to-person transmission can also occur through contact with blood, urine, faeces, vomitus and other body fluids of an infected person, particularly in an environment where infection prevention and control practices are not optimal.