Reported cases of Lassa fever are on a steady rise as the nation grapples with the challenges of stemming the spread of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic across the country.
More persons have also died of the disease since its new season began in January.
Lassa fever is an acute viral illness and a viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF), whose causative agent is a single-stranded RNA virus in the arenaviridae family of the Lassa virus.
It was first reported in Lassa community in Borno State, Nigeria, when two missionary nurses died from “an unusual febrile illness”.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Lassa virus is transmitted to man by infected multi-mammate rats, the mastomys natalensis species complex which is the reservoir host.
Humans become infected from direct contact with the urine and faeces of the rat which contains the virus, through touching soiled objects, eating contaminated food, or exposure to open cuts or sores.
According to the NCDC, a total of 22 persons have died of the fever since January 2021, beginning the week 1 of its cycle.
In the last one week, three persons have died of the disease across the country.
The total confirmed cases are 102, after the nation recorded 19 new cases in the last one week.
The new cases were reported in Edo, Ondo, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Enugu and Taraba states.
The disease is now prevalent in about eight states and 32 local government areas, with a fatality rate of 21.6 per cent.
Edo and Ondo States are in the lead of affected states, and had maintained the trend in the last three years.
While Edo States has 50 confirmed cases so far, it has only suffered four fatalities, whereas Ondo State with 26 confirmed cases, has witnessed eight deaths in the new wave of the epidemic.
Taraba has 11 confirmed cases with six deaths, while Ebonyi has six confirmed cases with one death.
Two persons have died in Bauchi and one in Enugu as a result of the disease.
Speaking on the development, the Ondo State Epidemiologist, Stephen Fagbemi, told PREMIUM TIMES the focus on the fight against COVID-19 “was a major drawback in this year’s campaign against Lassa Fever”.
He noted that although the states have stepped up their awareness campaign to stem Lassa fever, the challenge is “that the same personnel involved in the Lassa fever fight are the same officials dealing with the dreaded pandemic”.
“It is true we are challenged because the focus is much on COVID-19 and that is somehow affecting the way we react to Lassa fever as well,” he said.
“Don’t forget we are fighting the battle in two fronts and we are also deploying the same set of personnel in the conflict, so there will be some challenges in this regard.”
He said, “because of the COVID-19 situation, not many sick persons are willing to go the hospital, and by the time they are brought in, it is almost too late for them to survive”.
Mr Fagbemi noted that the state, which has the highest number of fatalities, had done a lot to reduce the rate of infections compared to what was obtained in 2020.
He said the state had continued its deratification programme “by distribution a huge number of rat poisons and collecting the dead rats for proper disposal”.
Mr Fagbemi said with the current effort, the states would improve on the records of last year in the fight against the disease.
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