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Combating Lassa Fever Resurgence



The fresh outbreak of Lassa fever in the country should give real cause for concern. Latest report has it that  the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja has recorded a new case of the disease, bringing the number of confirmed cases to three within three months. One of the two victims of the confirmed cases earlier recorded at Bwari Area Council of the FCT died in January. Similarly, in Ekiti State, three persons had reportedly died. Lassa fever, a haemorrhagic viral infection is named after Lassa, a village in Borno State, on the south of Lake Chad where the disease was first discovered in 1969 after two missionary nurses lost their lives.

Lassa fever manifests like other so-called common ailments such as malaria and typhoid fever. The onset is gradual which makes early diagnosis difficult leading to fatal consequences. It is estimated that 10 per cent of almost 500,000 people infested with Lassa fever lose their lives and approximately 15 per cent of hospitalized patients die. The disease is more severe in pregnancy, particularly in the third tri-mester, and foetal loss occurs in greater than 80 per cent of cases.

It is caused by a specie of rodents called the Natal multimammate rat, the common African rat, or the African soft-furred rat. The Lassa virus is transmitted when the droppings, that is, the urine or faeces of the rat–the natural reservoir for the virus–comes in contact with foodstuffs or in the process of the rat accessing grain stores, either in silos or in residences. However, transmission that occurs in hospitals and outbreaks in healthcare facilities in endemic areas represent a significant burden on the healthcare system.

There is need, in our view, to mobilise human and material resources to trace the extent of the disease and follow up on potential contacts in order to identify and test suspected cases early. In doing this, we suggest that  all tiers of government must ensure continuous sensitization of the citizenry, ensuring that homes, markets, offices, motor parks and other public places are regularly fumigated. Everyone must come to term with the need to maintain adequate hygiene and environmental sanitation at all times.

Early symptoms include fever, headache and general body weakness, followed by sore throat, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea in some cases. After four to seven days, most patients will start to feel better, but a small minority will present with multi-organ involvement. It can affect the gastrointestinal tract causing nausea, vomiting and stooling of blood as well as difficulty in swallowing; cardiovascular system symptoms include hypertension or hypotension as well as abnormal high heart rate and shock. In the respiratory tract, the victim experiences chest pains, cough and difficulty in breathing. The virus also causes difficulty in hearing, meningitis and seizures.

Death from Lassa fever most commonly occurs 10 to 14 days after symptom onset. Non-specific symptoms are facial swelling, muscle fatigue, as well as conjunctivitis and mucosal bleeding. And one of the hallmarks of Lassa virus infection is the absence of functional antibodies during acute infection. So far, there is no specific treatment for Lassa fever, being a viral infection, but sufferers must constantly have access to balanced diet, antibiotics and vitamin supplements to boost their immune systems to prevent secondary infections.

The prevention and control of the disease remains a shared responsibility. Therefore, it is the opinion of this newspaper that everyone involved must shun acts that could complicate the situation. More importantly, individual efforts in challenging this scourge is sacrosanct to achieving lasting solution to the deadly virus. Everyone must realize that keeping an entire community safe from such rampant disease only resonate from our desire and endlessly pursue personal and communal healthy attitude. Thus, it is important to keep away from rats and report any case of persistent fever to the nearest public health facility. The public is also advised to shun ingestion of food and drinks infested by the saliva, urine and faeces of infected rat. Getting directly in contact with an ailing person’s blood or body fluids, through mucous membranes, like eyes, nose or mouth should also be avoided. Above all, we urge everyone to embrace faultless personal and environmental hygiene. It is quite imperative that all stakeholders put up a common front against the spread of this disease, before it becomes another major plague.


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