January 22, 2018
January 2018: Nigeria is facing another outbreak of Lassa fever as there have been confirmed cases from Bauchi, Ondo, Ebonyi, Kogi, and Edo states with suspected cases from different parts of the country. On the 21st, a young and promising doctor, Idowu Ahmed succumbed to the horrible disease. He had gotten infected at work in Kogi state while trying to save the life of a sick baby. Not only health workers are affected, anyone who has close contact with an infected person is at risk. This is why you need to arm yourself with the facts.
What is Lassa fever?
Lassa haemorraghic fever (LHF) belongs to a family of haemorraghic fevers, which include Ebola fever and yellow fever. Ever since it was first identified in Lassa, Borno state of Nigeria in the year 1969, it has been found to be endemic in a number of West African countries, showing up in seasonal outbreaks.
What causes Lassa fever?
While monkeys and bats serve as the animal reservoirs for Ebola fever, in the case of Lassa fever, the natural host are the Mastomy rats, specifically, the multimammate rats. The latter name comes from the fact that the female rats have a distinct pattern of nipples on their bellies.
There are two ways that a person can get infected with Lassa fever:
- Exposure to the urine or excreta of the virus-carrying rat, through contaminated food or household objects.
- Contact with the secretions of an infected human being.
Symptoms of Lassa fever
It is only 20% of those who get infected with the Lassa virus that exhibit symptoms and another 20% of these cases have such a severe infection that destroys different internal organs at the same time. It takes between 6 and 21 days for a person to develop the disease after getting infected and the symptoms usually show up in stages.
First of all, there is a fever, general body weakness and a feeling of unwellness. Next, there may be headache, chills, muscle and join aches, sore throat, cough, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. More sinister symptoms like bleeding from the gums, nose or/and vagina or seeing blood in the urine or stool may follow. Finally, seizures, shock, coma and death may occur within two weeks in those serious cases.
Treatment of Lassa fever
Lassa fever is treatable! First of all, supportive treatment for pain, blood loss and other presenting symptoms needs to be instituted in time. Next, treatment of Lassa fever itself is done with Ribavirin, which works best if given within the first 6 days of the illness.
How to combat Lassa fever
- Get the right information and share with others. Do not believe or encourage myths about Lassa fever and do not panic! When in doubt, ask certified health care practitioners or public health personnel.
- Practice proper hygiene. The all-important way to avoid infectious disease is to wash your hands the right way and quite often, using hand sanitizers when appropriate.
- Practice good sanitation: Keep your surroundings clean and free from rats by proper storage and early disposal of refuse.
- Practice strict food hygiene: Ensure that you store your raw food items away from rats. Avoid tasting gari and similar raw food in the open market. Cook all foods thoroughly and properly covered until consumed.
- Report early: Do not stay at home when simple malaria symptoms persist. Get to the hospital immediately and encourage your loved ones to do same.
- Protect yourself: Doctors, nurses and all health personnel must observe strict universal precautions at all times and wear personal protective equipment when dealing with suspected cases. This applies to family members and all care-givers.
- Contact monitoring: Anyone who has had contact with an infected person should check their temperature daily for 21 days. If need be, they should be treated with Ribavirin.
Because Lassa fever, just like Ebola, starts usually starts off with vague symptoms like headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, it can resemble anything from malaria to typhoid or dysentery. This is one of the reasons why self-medication is a no-no. Lassa fever is treatable, but the success rate depends on early presentation, so be on the alert. Report any suspected case to the health authorities:
Nigerian Centre for Disease Control toll-free numbers: 0800-970000-10; SMS 08099555577; WhatsApp 07087110839; Twitter/Facebook:@NCDCgov
Lagos state Ministry of Health Directorate of Disease Control: 08022234273, 08037170614 and 08023169485.
Our doctors are also available via chat or phone call for questions about Lassa fever and any other health related concerns that you may want to discuss. Just visit DoctorDial.