Lassa fever: Nigeria records 43 deaths in two months

Cholera patients in hospital ward
Cholera patients in hospital ward [FILE PHOTO]

Lassa fever has claimed 43 lives in Nigeria with a total of 615 cases reported across 17 states since the beginning of 2018, a state agency has said.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, disclosed the figures in its weekly epidemiological report for Week 5 released on Monday.

According to the report, 193 cases have been confirmed positive to the Lassa fever virus giving a case fatality rate of 23.9 percent.

The report also stated that since the onset of the outbreak, there has been a high case ‘identification rate’ through the use of ‘standard case definition’ employed via the integrated disease surveillance and response (IDSR) strategy.

“This is an indication of an active and improved surveillance system. This in itself, is a part of the case detection process as all cases have to be subjected to laboratory testing for further classification and disease burden estimation.

“Currently, Lassa fever testing is carried out across three (3) laboratories in Nigeria. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has provided support for all testing laboratories with provision of reagents and other consumables. It is hoped that in the near future, atates are able to build and support laboratories to carry out Lassa fever testing,” it read in part.

The first Lassa fever case this year was confirmed in Ebonyi State when four people including three health workers died from the infection.

Health workers are most times secondary victims who get infected while treating patients with the disease.

Between 2005 and 2018, the infection claimed over 40 health workers in Ebonyi according to the state chapter of the Nigerian medical Association, NMA.

The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, in an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES on January 31 said health workers are most vulnerable during outbreaks because, “by virtue of our profession, we tend to show compassion by always getting closer to patients, hence the risk.”

Mr. Adewole also said measures have been put in place through the NCDC to detect ”every single case as they occur.”

“We have had Lassa fever for over 50 years, but what happened in the last two to three years is that we put in place measures to be able to pick cases wherever they occur. We have surveillance officers across the country. So what we are saying is even if you have one case, let us know so we can determine if its presumptive, possible or confirmed case,” he said.

The illness was first discovered in Nigeria when two missionary nurses succumbed to the virus in 1969. Its name is derived from the village of Lassa in Borno State where it was first documented.

The disease is endemic to a number of West African countries. There are estimated to be between 100,000 and 300,000 cases of Lassa fever per year and approximately 5,000 deaths due to the disease.

Symptoms generally appear within 1-3 weeks following infection. An estimated 80 per cent of infections produce symptoms so mild that they remain undiagnosed. These mild infections are characterised by a general malaise, headache and a light fever.

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