Lassa fever or Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF) is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus. Just like Ebola virus was named after a river in south Sudan, Lassa fever was first identified in 1969 in the town of Lassa, in Borno State, Nigeria. Lassa fever is a member of the Arenaviridae virus family. Similar to ebola, clinical cases of the disease had been known for over a decade, but had not been connected with a viral pathogen. The disease was first described in the 1950s, and the virus was identified in 1969, when two missionary nurses died from it in the town of Lassa in Nigeria.
Between 2012 and 2013, over 2900 cases of Lassa fever were reported in widespread outbreaks that occurred across many states in Nigeria.
Reports of the outbreak of Lassa Fever in at least 10 states including the FCT leaving 43 dead and at least 100 hospitalized, has necessitated the need for public enlightenment and appropriate information as to protect lives.
Lassa fever is zoonotic. It is spread by wild multimammate rats (Mastomys species) which is the most common mouse and often live in or around homes in equatorial/tropical Africa. The rats shed the virus in their urine and droppings. Once infected, rodents shed virus throughout their life. They carry the virus in their urine and faeces and live in homes and areas where food is stored.
This deadly disease is highly contagious and transmitted in humans by exposure to animal excrement through the respiratory or gastrointestinal tracts, inhalation of tiny particles of infectious material (aerosol) , through broken skin or mucous membranes that are directly exposed to infectious material are believed to be the most significant means of exposure. However, transmission from person to person has also been established, presenting a disease risk for healthcare workers but transmission by sexual contact has not been established.
Within three weeks of coming in contact with the virus, symptoms include fever, headache, chills, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, backache, and joint pains. Bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose, bleeding from the mouth and rectum, eye swelling, swelling of the genitals and rashes all over the body that often contain blood. It could progress to coma, shock and death.
CHANCE OF SURVIVAL
About 15-20% of hospitalized Lassa fever patients will die from the illness. The overall mortality rate is estimated to be 1%, but during epidemics, mortality can climb as high as 50%. The mortality rate is greater than 80% when it occurs in pregnant women during their third trimester; fetal death also occurs in nearly all those cases. Abortion decreases the risk of death to the mother. Some survivors experience lasting effects of the disease.
Early and aggressive treatment with Ribavirin, fatality rates are continuing to decline. After extensive testing, early administration of Ribavirin was determined to be critical to success but the cost of the drug is still very high for many of those in West African states. Alternatively, fluid replacement, blood transfusion, and fighting hypotension are usually required. Intravenous interferon therapy has also been used.
The general public is advised to take note of the following:
* Avoid contact between rats and human beings.
* Observe good personal hygiene including hand washing with soap and running water regularly
* Dispose of your waste properly and clean the environment so that rats are not attracted
* Store foods in rat proof containers and cook all foods thoroughly before eating.
* Discourage rodents from entering the house by blocking all possible entry points
* Food manufacturers and handlers should not spread food where rats can have access to it.
* Report any cases of above symptoms or persistent high fever not responding to standard treatment for malaria and typhoid fever to the nearest health centre.
* All fluids from an infected person are extremely dangerous. Health workers are also advised to be at alert, wear personal protective equipment, observe universal basic precautions, nurse suspected cases in isolation and report same to the LGA or Ministry of Health immediately.
For more information,contact the Directorate of Disease Control, Lagos State Ministry of Health on 08037170614, 08023169485.