Kuni Tyessi in Abuja
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is scaling up its response to the outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria, which has spread to 17 states and may have infected up to 450 people in less than five weeks.
In a statement by the organisation and signed by its communications expert, Ms. Charity Warigon, it said from the onset of the outbreak, WHO Nigeria deployed staff from the national and state levels to support the federal government Lassa fever Emergency Operations Centre and state surveillance activities.
She said: â€œWHO is helping to coordinate health actors and is joining rapid risk assessment teams travelling to hot spots to investigate the outbreak.
â€œBetween January 1 and February 4 2018, nearly 450 suspected cases were reported, of which 132 are laboratory confirmed Lassa fever. Of these, 43 deaths were reported, 37 of which were lab confirmed,â€ she added.
The acute viral haemorrhagic fever is endemic in Nigeria but for the current outbreak the hot spots are the southern states of Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi.
WHO Representative to Nigeria, Dr. Wondimagegnehu Alemu, said the high number of Lassa fever cases was worrisome as the organisation was observing an unusually high number of cases for this time of year.
He said: â€œAmong those infected are 11 health workers, four of whom have died. WHO is advising national authorities on strengthening infection, prevention and control practices in healthcare settings. Healthcare workers caring for Lassa fever patients require extra infection and control measures, including the use of personal protective equipment to prevent contact with patientsâ€™ bodily fluids.
With the increase in the number of cases, WHO initially donated personal protective equipment to the Nigeria Center for Disease Control and to the affected states and procured laboratory reagents to support the prompt diagnosis of Lassa fever. WHO is deploying international experts to coordinate the response, strengthen surveillance, provide treatment guidelines, and engage with communities to raise awareness on prevention and treatment.â€