What Nigeria should do to prevent incessant Lassa fever outbreaks 

What Nigeria should do to prevent incessant Lassa fever outbreaks 

Lara Adejoro<

From January 3 to 9, 2022, Nigeria recorded 48 confirmed cases and 222 suspected cases of Lassa fever across 10 states, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

This disclosure by the NCDC is clearly an indication that the health condition has continued to ravage Nigeria in the new year as it did last year.

The health agency also noted that at least one confirmed case of Lassa fever has been recorded across 20 Local Government Areas of the country. 

The figures show that the number of suspected Lassa fever cases has increased compared to what was reported for the same period in 2021, which was 109.

Of this figure, two persons, including a health worker have succumbed to the acute viral haemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus.

It must be noted that the Nigerian and other stakeholders in the health sector have once again failed to take urgent and needed drastic measures to tackle viral infection and curb its avoidable annual mortality and morbidity.

In fact, on January 17, the Oyo State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Bode Ladipo, said the disease has spread to some LGAs and killed some residents in the state.

Dr. Ladipo in a statement he released said, “Blood samples were taken from the recuperating individuals with samples of water also taken. These samples were sent to the National Reference Laboratory for Haemorrhagic Fever in Abuja for analysis and confirmation.

“The result of the investigation from the Reference Laboratory was received today, January 17, 2022, with two of the 10 samples testing positive for Lassa fever.

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“As such, the ministry has repositioned doses of antiviral agents for the treatment of the Lassa fever cases and personal protective devices for the health care providers at Iwere Ile and Iganna. Health education and environmental sanitation are presently ongoing in the communities.

“The state surveillance system has been augmented across all local in the state.

“Suspected cases are to be referred to the nearest Government Hospital for free and quality care.”

The outbreak of Lassa fever in Ibadan has further affirmed the fact that it remained a deadly condition.

Lassa fever remains a major public health challenge in West Africa with Nigeria bearing the highest burden. It is a disease that occurs throughout the year, but more cases are seen during the dry season i.e., November through May.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus. The natural reservoir for the virus is the Mastomys natalensis rodent (commonly known as the multimammate rat) but other rodents have also been identified as carriers of the virus. 

Despite being declared a public health emergency on January 29, 2019, and the alarming statistics of the recurring virus, nothing much has been done to change the narrative.

With the predictable cycle of the disease, Nigeria should have developed proactive strategies that can help to prevent and save people from the grip of the disease.

NCDC stated that Lassa fever alert letters have been sent to states but most states are yet to create awareness about the epidemic, adding that many states are also yet to really scale up their risk communications and community engagement activities.

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It must be stressed that to halt the spread of Lassa fever and prevent its future occurrence, all hands must be on deck. 

While the must take the lead by coming up with a robust policy statement that will help improve Lassa fever control and management, other stakeholders in the health sector and indeed all citizens must embrace control measures for the health condition. 

In a country of over 200 million people, there are only seven laboratories to test for Lassa fever in Nigeria and this is coordinated by the NCDC National Reference Laboratory.

The inefficient laboratory diagnosis and late hospital admission, according to experts, make the treatment of the health condition especially with available drugs less effective.

There is also a need for more studies to identify the interface with the highest risk of rodent to human to environment transmission. This will help to understand the persistent conditions for the recurring outbreak and transmission of Lassa fever.

Also, there are preventive measures that Nigerians should embrace to prevent and control the spread of Lassa fever. 

This includes practicing good hygiene measures, such as regularly washing hands, cleaning and cooking food thoroughly, and controlling local rodent populations.

According to the World Health Organisation, prevention of Lassa fever relies on promoting good “community hygiene” to discourage rodents from entering homes. 

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“Effective measures include storing foodstuffs in rodent-proof containers, disposing of garbage far from the home, maintaining clean households, and keeping cats. 

“Because Mastomys rats are so abundant in endemic areas, it is not possible to eliminate them from the environment. Family members should always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons. 

“In health-care settings, staff should also always apply standard infection prevention and control precautions when caring for patients, regardless of their presumed diagnosis. 

“These include basic hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, use of personal protective equipment (to block splashes or other contacts with infected materials), safe injection practices, and safe burial practices.

“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 metre) 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),” WHO said.

Now is the time to start implementing those measures.

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