– Why it is difficult to curtail outbreak – medical expert
It’s been over seven months (August 2015) since the latest in a series of outbreaks of the Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), and this time it has claimed the lives of more than 100 people (precisely 108) across 20 states, including FCT Abuja, in Nigeria, according to Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole.
More state-by-state account of the spread of the zoonotic disease
Niger state lost 16 persons in January to the dreaded disease in Fuka village due to ignorance and superstition, according to the state’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Mustapha Jibrin.
Dr Jibrin stated that initially, they were unaware that it was Lassa fever that killed 16 persons in August last year at Fuka but government was able to discover that it was Lassa fever with the help of a school principal in the village.
He disclosed further that the principal notified the authorities when 11 students of his school fell ill with strange symptoms, and when tests were carried out it was discovered that one of the students tested positive to Lassa fever. The commissioner explained that from then it was discovered that the 16 persons who had died were attributed to the superstitious belief of the villagers as it was part of Fuka community’s belief that for any of their new markets to flourish, there is the need for a sacrifice of 35 gallons of blood. When the first outbreak of the disease occurred in the state, the people didn’t regard it as a deadly disease but as part of their traditions because the community had set up a new market in August when the first case of Lassa fever was recorded. Thus, the 16 people who died between August and December last year, were deemed ‘sacrificial blood’.
The Ifeanyi Okowa-led state recorded its first case of the viral disease when a 65-year-old woman from neighbouring Anambra, who was said to have come for treatment in the state, was admitted at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Asaba.
She was then referred to Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, where her condition worsened and she eventually lost her life.
The state government has also released some of the 22 contacts linked to the index case of the virus in the state after completing the 21-day surveillance programme without showing any sign of infection.
The state’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Nicholas Azinge, revealed that the 22 individuals were said to have come in contact with the index case.
Dr. Azinge added that a second suspected case ended as indeterminate, while several other samples sent for laboratory investigation at the Specialist Hospital, Irrua, Edo State, came out negative.
The North Central state confirmed three cases of the disease in two local governments in the state on Monday, February 15.
Dr. Kabir Getso, the state’s Commissioner for Health said while addressing newsmen that two of the confirmed cases were recorded in Garun-Malam Local Government Area, while the third, a young businessman from Dawakin Kudu Local Government Area, visited the state from Benue the previous week.
The commissioner added that all the contacts were identified and followed up, and that more than 70 per cent of them had either completed their 21 days follow up or tested negative.
On efforts the state government was making to combat the outbreak, he said: “The measures include the setting up of rapid response team, establishment of the Lassa Fever Emergency Operation Centre and the setting up of the State Committee on the control of Lassa Fever.”
Meanwhile, the state has also recorded three deaths due to the virus. The first case of Lassa fever, which killed two persons, a man and his son at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, was recorded early December 2015.
The state’s Director of Public Health Dr. Joshua Abubakar disclosed in January that an eight year old girl from Lamban village tested positive to Lassa fever.
Dr. Abubakar explained that the girl was brought to the specialist hospital from a private clinic, and that the sample sent to a laboratory in Lagos confirmed she had Lassa Fever.
He added that there were seven suspected cases out of which five were confirmed negative, one positive and one still pending.
ENCOMIUM Weekly spoke with Dr. Olusegun Ogunwale, a physician who explained why it has been difficult curtailing the outbreak over five months after…
It’s been five months since the latest outbreak of Lassa fever which has claimed more than 100 lives, why has it been difficult to curtail the spread?
The general unhygienic nature of the people, as well as the state of the environment. It encourages breeding of the parasite and vector of the disease. And when you keep an unhealthy and dirty environment where rats and the likes can bred, of course the disease will continue to spread as they carry the virus around.
Also, most people don’t have a proper way of keeping their foods. Some spread their garri in the sun and rats will run over it and all, it becomes infected. So, it all boils down to the way of life of our people – our unhygienic nature, unhygienic environment and unhygienic way of keeping and processing food.
In addition to that, we don’t have the practice of washing our hands, we don’t disinfect household items and stuffs like that. Those are the things that foster the continual spread of the disease.
Aside all that, you know the early symptoms are non-specific. When it starts, people think it’s malaria and the likes and start treating that. That also affects health personnel who start treating the patient without proper diagnosis. If you don’t have a high rate of suspicion, you may start treating the patient for malaria like every other patient and throw away precaution like wearing gloves and other protective gears. This also causes its continued spread as more people contact the virus through that patient because no precaution was taken.
So, it spreads among health personnel because there’s no high rate of suspicion and no precautionary measures are taken.
What role does ignorance play in all these?
Yes, it does play a role. Because in states where the disease is rampant, the people are well aware and are a little more precautious, but in places like Lagos where it is not so rampant, awareness is not so much.
Some even say ‘God forbid’ that the disease cannot get here, and don’t take any precaution. Also, because of the low rate of awareness, people travel from Lagos to other states and contact the virus, then die when they get back to Lagos after infecting those that were around them.