ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LASSA FEVER



Lassa fever, an acute viral haemorrhagic illness of 2-21 days duration that occurs in West Africa, is currently ravaging 23 states and a total of 74 local government areas in Nigeria, according to reports from Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC). As of 2nd February, 47 total deaths have been recorded. Most cases of the virus have been recorded in Edo, Ondo, and Ebonyi respectively. (NCDC Situation Report)

“The latest outbreak is said to be the worst in Nigeria in the past years. It erupted in November and the first case was reported in the northeastern state of Bauchi.” (Xinhua Net)

The virus is transmitted to humans through food or drinks contaminated with urine or faeces of rodents carrying the virus. Lassa virus may also be spread through exposure to blood, urine, faeces or other bodily fluids of an infected person. The particular species of rodents that carry this virus are called Mastomys rats, which are mostly found in rural areas, thereby putting people living in such areas at greater risk of contracting the virus.

There is a divide between practitioners as to whether the virus is airborne: some believe that the virus can be contracted by inhaling air contaminated with aerosols of rodents excretion; while to some others, like the WHO, they believe the virus has not yet been epidemiologically proven to be airborne.

The clinical course of the virus varies in different patients, thereby making it hard to detect. The incubation period, that is the duration it takes for the virus to be fully detectable is between six days and three weeks.

Early symptoms of the virus include fever, general weakness and a general feeling of discomfort and uneasiness whose primary cause is unknown.
After a couple of days, it grows into a severe headache, sore throat, ringing ears, muscle pain, chest pain, diarrhea, cough, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain.

In more serious cases, the patient could experience loss of fluid from blood vessels into tissues, resulting in fluids around the lung cavity and heart, facial swelling, bleeding from mouth, nose, vagina and gastrointestinal tract, low blood pressure. Light-skinned patients may develop rashes in the upper part of their body as well.

During the final stages, patients may experience seizures, coma, organ failure, shock, tremor and/or disorientation.

In preventing Lassa fever,
  • Community hygiene should be paramount, and if Lassa fever is detected, the whole community should be isolated for treatment;
  • We should ensure all access points for rodents in the home are eradicated;
  • Garbage should be kept and disposed of away from home;
  • Food supplies should also be locked away from where rodents can get to them;
  • For individuals caring for Lassa fever patients, they use personal protective equipment and avoid contact with their body fluids like urine, faeces, blood, and saliva;
  • Only highly trained personnel should be allowed to handle specimens from patients, and also in specialized laboratories.

Treatment

In early detection of Lassa fever, the anti-viral drug, ribavirin should be given to patients. It is highly effective in the treatment of Lassa fever.
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