Lassa Fever: Nigeria Records 19 Cases, Six Deaths Since December

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Martins Ifijeh

Since the beginning of the current dry season which started in December 2016, Nigeria has recorded 19 confirmed cases of Lassa fever and six deaths from seven states, the Technical Assistant Communication, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Lawal Bakare, has revealed.

Breakdown of the figures by states show Plateau recorded six cases, three deaths; Ogun recorded two cases, two deaths; Taraba recorded six cases, one death; Nasarawa recorded two cases; Edo, Ondo and Rivers all recorded one case each without deaths.

Bakare said NCDC was working closely with affected states to ensure an appropriate response to these cases, as social mobilisation activities and sensitisation of health workers were being scaled up.

“The outbreak response commodities that were prepositioned in the states by NCDC are being used for the response. Epidemiological response activities such as contact listing and tracing are also going on in the affected states. States that had previously identified and resourced isolation units as they were advised are much better prepared to deal with cases,” he explained.

He said it was encouraging that some patients were presenting early, and in cases where healthcare workers have a high index of suspicion for Lassa fever, the patients treated walk out of treatment centres in good health. “When diagnosis and treatment is late, it reduces the likelihood of recovery. Lassa fever is curable when there is rapid laboratory testing to confirm the disease, leading to early commencement of treatment.”

To prevent Lassa fever in the community, he advised Nigerians to keep their foods safe from rats and rat excreta. Adding that, critically, Lassa fever transmission in healthcare settings can be prevented by strict adherence to universal precautions, as doctors and nurses must hold each other accountable to insist on these precautions.

NCDC urges Nigerians to cooperate with their respective state governments in this response. “Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria, and molecular dating suggests that Lassa virus has been circulating in Nigeria for over a thousand years and in some other West African countries for hundreds of years. The NCDC will continue to support states across the country through this dry season. A Lassa fever working group has been set-up at NCDC to ensure no state is left behind. Reports from states show prepositioned materials have been critical for states to respond immediately to cases.

“Prevention of Lassa fever begins with a state of awareness. This disease is preventable and can be treated. Improving food and personal hygiene is key to prevention at household level. A high index of suspicion and observing universal safety precautions is key to prevention at the health facility level.

“The NCDC wants to remind healthcare workers that they are at a higher risk of contracting Lassa. They are therefore encouraged to ensure strict infection prevention and control practices at points of care. All febrile illnesses must be tested for malaria before treatment; tests that return negative for malaria may be Lassa fever and must flag suspicion. We encourage frontline health workers to report all suspected cases of Lassa to their Local Government Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers and/or state Epidemiologists.”

For further information on how Nigerians can protect themselves and their families from the hemorrhagic disease, he said NCDC can be reached through a toll-free call centre on 080097000010. “We also receive feedback through our Facebook and Twitter accounts @NCDCgov. You can also visit www.ncdc.gov.ng for more information on the disease,” Bakare said