THE RETURN OF LASSA FEVER

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  • The authorities could do more to contain this public health challenge

On Tuesday, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo made a special broadcast to the people of the state on the current outbreak of Lassa fever infection. It was an act of leadership for which he should be commended. Sadly, in many states of the federation, and Abuja, the authorities are silent about this current outbreak that has killed dozens of our people. “This outbreak has been occurring fairly regularly over many decades, unfortunately in the past few years it has increased in magnitude. Sadly, within the few weeks of this year, several scores have been affected and some had died from the disease,” said Akeredolu, adding that the recurrence is because “some of our citizens still indulge in habits that continue to encourage this disease to spread.”

While Ondo, where no fewer than 16 people had so far been killed, are still counting their losses, the Kano State Director of Public Health and Disease Control, Dr Imam Bello, also announced on Tuesday that the disease had killed two medical doctors and a pregnant patient in the state. Against the background of repeated commitments by various stakeholders to prevent a recurrence of this disease, what the current outbreak has shown clearly is that if indeed there have been any preventive strategies, they were not implemented. We therefore believe that the authorities need to do more if we are ever to rid the nation of the disease that claims the lives of dozens of our citizens on an annual basis.

Lassa fever is an acute febrile illness which is caused by a virus with an incubation period of between six to 21 days. The onset of the disease is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, cough, and bleeding from mouth or nose. But there are recommended preventive measures such as avoiding contact with rats (dead or alive), keeping the house and surrounding clean always, clearing all bushes around the house to avoid breeding sites for rats as well as putting refuse into covered dustbins and disposing appropriately.

However, because the symptoms of Lassa fever are so varied and non-specific, clinical diagnosis is often difficult, especially early in the course of the disease. For that reason, steps should be taken by the federal government to direct all health facilities in the country to emphasise routine infection prevention and control measures. Healthcare workers should also be advised to always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids in the process of caring for sick persons.

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 both the Federal Ministry of Environment and that of Information that can deploy the National Orientation Agency (NOA) for a public awareness campaign on the issue.

While we believe that with effective coordination, the disease can be contained quickly before it becomes another national epidemic with dire implications, the real challenge is to work towards its total eradication from our country. Besides, we hope the authorities will take both preventive and long-term measures this time around so that we do not continue to lose our health professionals who treat those infected with the virus.