Why Lassa fever has remained endemic 53 years after outbreak – Prof. Agbonlahor

Why Lassa fever has remained endemic 53 years after outbreak – Prof. Agbonlahor

A member of the National Committee on the Control of Lassa Fever and a renowned medical laboratory scientist, Professor Dennis Agbonlahor, has said that viral disease will continue to live with Nigeria unless efforts are intensified on vaccine production.

He stated this on Wednesday during an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Benin, Edo State.

He noted that Nigeria was yet to get an effective vaccine for the severe viral hemorrhagic disease, 53 years after its first outbreak in Nigeria.

This, he said, was because Lassa fever is a regional disease unlike the global coronavirus that is killing more white than the black.

“There is politics everywhere and the challenge is that vaccines for Lassa fever are not available as against the COVID-19, which vaccines are produced within three months,” he added.

Prof. Agbonlahor, however, said the vaccine for Lassa fever is “currently undergoing a clinical trial in Ghana.

He said, “The authorities in the past, even the Federal Ministry of Health, did not show any serious commitment to the eradication of the disease until the emergence of the last Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.

“Ihekweazu began to answer some calls, which resulted to the weekly update on the number of Lassa fever infections and daily updates on COVID-19.

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“Government is showing some interest now, which we are happy about. However, there must be vaccines available if we are to eradicate it, particularly for farmers and frontline health workers.”

According to Agbonlahor, who is a professor of Medical Laboratory Science, depopulation of Mastomys Natalensis, the peri-domestic rodents that are carriers of the virus, is a way to reduce the spread.

A proposal on how to achieve the eradication, the medical researcher said, had been submitted to the Federal Ministry of Health.

He called on the to make money available in earnest to carry out the exercise.

Prof. Agbonlahor, “They may be impossible to eradicate, but we can reduce the population. We can achieve this if our leaders shy away from corruption.

“We are not directing our resources appropriately. Meanwhile, the health of a nation is the wealth of that nation. Politicians embezzling money can be infected too.

The renowned medical laboratory scientist, however, called on individuals to ensure that their homes are rodents free, to make them less susceptible to the virus.

NAN reports that the Edo State recently announced recording a total of 176 cases of Lassa fever in 11 Local Government Council Areas of the state.

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The state Commissioner for Health, Prof. Obehi Akoria, who made the disclosure while addressing newsmen after the weekly State Executive Council Meeting, said that of the 11 LGAs, Etsako West and Esan West are the worst hit by the infection.

She said: “Eleven local of Edo State have been affected by Lassa fever and leading among these are Etsako West and Esan West which accounts for about 64 per cent of the cases and 52 per cent of deaths.

“As of Tuesday April, 5, 2022, we have confirmed 176 cases of Lassa fever in Edo state and we are committed to eradicating it, focusing on eradicating the breed of rats that causes the disease.”

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by the Lassa virus, a member of the arenavirus family of viruses and humans usually become infected with the Lassa virus through exposure to food or household items contaminated with urine or faeces of infected Mastomys rats.

The disease is endemic in the rodent population in parts of West Africa.

Lassa fever is known to be endemic in Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Nigeria, but probably exists in other West African countries as well.

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According to the World Health Organisation, person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in health care settings in the absence of adequate infection prevention and control measures.

“Diagnosis and prompt treatment are essential. The overall case-fatality rate is one per cent. Among patients who are hospitalised with severe clinical presentation of Lassa fever, case fatality is estimated at around 15 per cent. Early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival.

“About 80 per cent of people who become infected with the Lassa virus have no symptoms. One in five infections result in severe disease, where the virus affects several organs such as the liver, spleen, and kidneys,” said WHO.



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