Lassa fever: Nigeria’s death toll rises to 41

LASSA FEVER: Rats used to illustrate the story.
Rats used to illustrate the story.

The death toll from the Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria has increased to 41, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has disclosed.

The NCDC, in its weekly situation update for week four (January 20 to 26), stated that the number of newly confirmed cases and deaths is gradually on the rise.

Although NCDC has activated a National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate the response activities, the number of new confirmed cases increased from 81 cases in week three to 95 cases.

Between January 1 and 26, a total of 689 suspected cases with 258 confirmed cases were reported with 41 deaths.

These cases were reported from 19 states including Ondo, Edo, Ebonyi, Enugu, Kano, Borno, Nasarawa, Kogi, Rivers, Abia, Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Delta, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, Osun and Ogun.

Five health workers were among the dead: Kano (3), Taraba (1) and Borno (1).

Since the beginning of the outbreak this year, 19 states have recorded at least one confirmed case across 60 local government areas.

Although there has been a spike in the number of cases and deaths reported for the reported week, it is still lower than the numbers reported in the same period in 2019.

However, there is very little difference in the number of deaths recorded: 41 so far in 2020 compared to 42 in the same period in 2019.

The Nigerian health agency in a statement issued on Saturday, said the increase in the number of cases at this time of the year is not unusual, due to ecological factors.

This means Nigerians should not yet expect respite from the outbreak because the Lassa fever season in the country peaks from November to May.

The country has no effective measures to curb the spread of the killer disease and has so far focussed on curative measures.

This is why health agencies embark on contact tracing of persons who have been suspected to be in contact with patients.

This has become a yearly occurrence with hundreds of people infected and dozens of deaths recorded. At present, there is no known vaccine for the prevention of the disease.

Three states, Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi are still the states with the highest prevalent cases among the 19 states with confirmed cases.

Also, there has been no changes in the age group affected.

NCDC said the predominant age-group affected is 11-40 years. The male to female ratio for confirmed cases is 1:1

Expert concerned

Experts have been raising concerns about yearly outbreak of the disease in the country.

A Lassa fever expert and virologist, Oyewale Tomori, on Monday lamented that the government is not doing enough in finding a lasting solution to the yearly outbreak.

He said Nigerian leaders seem to be less concerned about the disease because most of the people contacting the disease are the masses.

Mr Tomori called on the government to take more responsibility in combating the disease and find a lasting solution to curbing it.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has described the recent outbreak of Lassa fever across the country as a reflection of the abysmally low level of preparedness in handling infectious diseases, especially viral hemorrhagic fever, at all levels of healthcare delivery.

The NMA in the statement signed by its president, Francis Faduyile, said the frequency of the outbreaks also underscores the deplorable state of healthcare delivery in Nigeria.

He appealed to health authorities at all levels to prioritise capacity-building of healthcare professionals on standard infection prevention and control measures.

Lassa Fever

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF) caused by the Lassa virus. The natural carrier of the virus is the multimammate rat, but the disease is also spread through human to human transmission.

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.

Lassa fever at early stages 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.


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