Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness, transmitted to humans through contact with food or household items contaminated by infected rodents. Person-to-person transmission can also occur, particularly in hospital environments in the absence of adequate infection control measures.
The virus was first identified in 1969 from a case in the town of Lassa in Borno State, Nigeria. In December 2016, the Federal government of Nigeria raised the alarm over the resurgence of the deadly disease.
According to a release by the Ministry of Health, since the beginning of 2018, a total of 107 suspected Lassa fever cases have been recorded in ten States: Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Anambra, Benue, Kogi, Imo and Lagos State.
As at 21st January 2018, the total number of confirmed cases was 61, with 16 deaths recorded. Ten health care workers have been infected in four States (Ebonyi – 7, Nasarawa – 1, Kogi – 1 and Benue – 1) with three deaths in Ebonyi State.
PREVENTION AND CONTROL
Being a viral infection, which can be easily spread, medical practitioners have always placed emphasis on prevention as the best form of treatment for Lassa fever. Preventive measures in this regard refer to making efforts to control rat populations, while also ensuring that no food is exposed to rodents since the urine and body fluid of rodents are the key things which cause Lassa fever transmission.
Additional prevention methods include:
• Bushes and clutter around the buildings should be cleared to make the environment unattractive to rats. Food, cooking utensils and drinking water should be kept in rat proof containers.
• Avoid using rats as food sources.
• Avoid close contact with individuals who exhibit symptoms such as fever with slow response to treatment.
• Health-care workers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed Lassa fever should apply extra infection control measures to prevent contact with the patient’s blood and body fluids and contaminated surfaces or materials such as clothing and bedding.
When in close contact (within 1 meter) of patients with Lassa fever, health-care workers should wear face protection (a face shield or a medical mask and goggles), a clean, non-sterile long-sleeved gown, and gloves (sterile gloves for some procedures).