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The recent report that there’s a Lassa fever outbreak in Ondo state is disturbing. Such was the number of fresh cases that there were no enough bed spaces to admit more patients if need be.

In this piece, we will be explaining the basic things you should about it and the preventive measures to be adopted against it.

According to the Centre for Disease Control(CDC), Lassa fever is an animal-borne disease which is transmitted to humans. It is common in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria as well as some other parts of West Africa.

It’s estimated that about 100,000 to 300,000 new cases are discovered every year with about 5000 deaths annually.

How is it transmitted?

The carrier of Lassa virus is a rat, commonly referred to as Multimammate rat. Once it is infected with the virus, it can excrete it in the urine for the rest of its life. The fact that it readily colonize human homes and areas where food is stored makes it easy for the virus to spread from infected rodents to humans.

Direct contact with infected rodents is not the only way in which people are infected;

Other ways of transmission are:

  1. Person-to-person transmission which may occur after exposure to virus in the blood, tissue, secretions, or excretions of a Lassa virus-infected individual. Casual contact (including skin-to-skin contact without exchange of body fluids) does not spread Lassa virus.
  2. Person-to-person transmission in health care settings (called nosocomial transmission) where proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is not available or not used.
  3. Lassa virus may also be spread in contaminated medical equipment, such as reused needles.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

The symptoms become obvious after 1-3 weeks after infection with Lassa fever virus. Majority of Lassa fever disease often go unnoticed with mild symptoms: fever, headache, weakness etc.

The following are the common signs and symptoms:

  1. Bleeding from the gums, eyes, or nose.
  2. Respiratory distress, repeated vomiting, facial swelling, pain in the chest, back, and abdomen, and shock.
  3. Neurological problems have also been described, including hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis. Death may occur within two weeks after symptom onset due to multi-organ failure.

Can It be Treated?

Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, has been used with success in Lassa fever patients. It has been shown to be most effective when given early in the course of the illness. Therefore it is instructive to report any suspected case of Lassa fever in your house or neighborhood, you may be saving someone’s life: The earlier it is reported, the better the chances of survival.

For the Healthcare professionals managing patients with Lassa fever, supportive care should be given: maintenance of appropriate fluid and electrolyte balance, oxygenation and blood pressure, as well as treatment of any other complicating infections.

Is It Preventable?

Yes, Lassa fever is Preventable. As a matter of fact, prevention is better than cure.

The following are the useful preventive measures:

  • Avoiding contact with Mastomys rodents, especially in the geographic regions where outbreaks occur.
  • Putting food away in rodent-proof containers and
  • keeping the home clean help to discourage rodents from entering homes.
  • Using these rodents as a food source is not recommended.
  • Trapping in and around homes can help reduce rodent populations.
  • When caring for patients with Lassa fever, further transmission of the disease through person-to-person contact or nosocomial routes can be avoided by taking preventive precautions against contact with patient secretions using barrier nursing methods. Such precautions include wearing protective clothing, such as masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles;
  • Using infection control measures, such as complete equipment sterilization; and isolating infected patients from contact with unprotected persons until the disease has run its course.
  • Educating people in high-risk areas about ways to decrease rodent populations in their homes will aid in the control and prevention of Lassa fever. 

Credit: CDC

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