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The recent outbreak of the Lassa haemorrhagic fever (LHF) is sweeping across the country; as at the last count, Nasarawa Bauchi, Niger, Taraba, Rivers, Edo, Kano, Plateau, Gombe Lagos and Oyo States have been affected with not less than 43 people losing their lives – a real cause for concern.
Named after Lassa village in Borno state where it first occurred in 1969, the virus causes acute haemorrhagic fever and is a member of the Arenaviridae virus family. It is similar to viral infections like Ebola and is estimated to kill 5,000 people in West Africa every year. It is a zoonotic (or animal-borne) disease, which means that it can be transmitted from infected animals to people on contact, which in this case are rats.
Despite some good news from the Health Minister, Isaac Adewole who revealed at a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday, January 12, 2016 that the “no new confirmed cases or deaths in the last 72 hours;”
the last may have not been heard of the deadly virus which has already claimed more victims in Nigeria than the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014.
Mr. Adewole, however, added, “We will like to state that given the high index of suspicion, the increasing number of suspected cases may not be out of place as health practitioners are more likely to include Lassa fever as a differential diagnosis in their health care facilities.”
ENCOMIUM Weekly spoke with Dr. Olusegun Ogunwale, a physician, and he gave insight into the disease causes, symptoms, preventive measures and treatment…
What’s Lassa fever and what are the common symptoms?
Lassa is a haemorrhagic fever that causes patients to bleed. At the initial stage, there’ll be non specific signs like body pains, headache, feverish feeling. At later stage, the patient may start bleeding, coughing up blood. Because its symptoms are similar to that of malaria, you may not be able to tell until the virus gets to the later stage.
Compared to the likes of Ebola virus, how deadly is Lassa fever?
It’s a very deadly disease, if not detected and treated early enough it can lead to death. Unlike Ebola, Lassa can be treated if you can diagnose it at an early stage and the patient starts receiving treatment. The challenge with early detection is that since the symptoms are so similar to malaria and typhoid, patients maybe receiving treatment for those without knowing it could be Lassa.
How do people get infected?
The mode of infection is through the multimammate rat, which is the major carrier of the virus and is mostly found in neighbourhoods. Once these rats are infected and come in contact with your food, either by urinating and defecating in it, they contaminate it, people become infected when they consume that food. Also, it can spread from one person to another, especially when the patient starts bleeding, it is at a very infectious stage then. If an uninfected person comes in contact with the blood of such person, he could be infected, too. This is why health workers are at risk, some have even lost their lives.
Can infection only happen through contact with a patient’s blood, how about contact with urine, sweat, saliva of the infected person?
There’s a level of exposure to contamination when a person comes in contact with the body’s excretes like sweat and urine, but the most violent way is through contact with an infected person’s blood. If the patient is bleeding, it means the disease is at a very infectious stage.
Most neighbourhoods in Nigeria have always shared their space with rats, why is now any different?
These things are like epidemic, it comes and goes. When the rodents themselves become infected, it spreads.
What’s the most effective treatment for it?
There’s an anti-viral drug we use for treatment, it’s called Ribavirin. It’s proven to be very effective overtime. Once the patient has been diagnosed at a laboratory, we administer the drug. It comes in injection or tablet form. The treatment lasts for about 10 days.
What’s your advice to curb this spread?
Everyone, including medical personnel, has to be careful. Most people who get infected is through contaminated food, so avoid contact with contaminated foods. And just like during Ebola, let’s practice thorough hand wash. For health workers, when someone complains of headache, body pain, don’t just administer drugs for malaria or typhoid, especially when the person is coughing up blood, passing blood in stool or urine. Be careful of contact with that person, raise an alarm and call the appropriate quarters. There are emergency lines you can call to get help across to that person.
Cases or symptoms of persistent high fever can be reported at the nearest health facility or through the following lines:, 08037170614, 08022234273, 08022241768, 08033065303, 08033086660, 08055281442 and 08023169485.