There is need to strengthen public awareness on the viral disease

Five fresh cases of Lassa fever were last week confirmed in Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau and Rivers States, according to a statement by Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, the National Coordinator and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. Against the background of an earlier outbreak in Anambra and Delta States, there is now fear and apprehension over a deadly disease that previously held Nigeria hostage.

In what is clearly another show of shame, the disease has already taken the life of a medical doctor and a patient in Gombe while several of our citizens are placed under surveillance. While we commend the authorities for being proactive, we still believe that if preventive measures had been taken, we probably would not have been in this precarious situation.

We note particularly that following the outbreak last year, an emergency National Council on Health was held in Abuja, where all the states made pledges on how to prevent a recurrence. They also stipulated clear-cut parameters that were capable of halting further spread of the disease across the states. Unfortunately, the current outbreak has shown very clearly that if indeed there were any preventive strategies, they were not implemented. However, now that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of a possible outbreak of Lassa fever epidemic, government, at all levels, should be mobilised to prevent such a disaster.

Lassa fever is an acute febrile illness, with bleeding and death in severe cases. It is caused by the Lassa fever virus with an incubation period of between six to 21 days. The onset of the disease is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, before being followed by headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, cough, and bleeding from mouth, nose, etc. But to the extent that it is contagious and deadly, its impact on individual and the nation’s health care system could be devastating. That is why it is very disturbing that all the public awareness and other preventive measures introduced following last year’s outbreak may have been jettisoned.

Yet an outbreak of any disease in the current economic crisis in the country will be telling. Government and other stakeholders should therefore work to avoid any epidemic of Lassa fever. Last year, about 101 deaths were recorded while 273 cases were established in 17 states across the country. It is hard to believe that Nigeria can withstand such scale of disaster at the moment. To that end, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) should go beyond mere issuing of statements and warnings.

Beyond dispatching some rapid response team like it has done in the new cases in Delta State, there is need to strengthen public awareness on the virus. There is also the need to dissuade villagers from spreading their food stuff outside or on the roads. Given that rodents are the highest transmitters of the disease, more proactive measures should be taken to curb the spread of the disease. A better way to achieve that includes putting health officers in the field to begin educating the masses about safety and preventive measures against Lassa fever.

Experts have advised that people should ensure their food (cooked or uncooked) is properly covered while regular hand-washing should be adhered to always. The bush around the home should also be cleared regularly while windows and doors of the house should be closed especially when it is night time. The general public should also be adequately enlightened on the dangers posed by rats in their homes. This should be the responsibility of the health and environment authorities at both the federal and state levels. By so doing, we will be able to save our people from avoidable deaths from Lassa fever.