Five things you need to know about the Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria

“The fact that Nigeria has been declared Ebola free does not mean the NCDC should be relaxed about putting appropriate measures in place to aid the fight against other deadly epidemics like Lassa fever,” said Dr. Femi Adebayo, a medical practitioner who spoke to Ventures Africa.

The outbreak of yet another hemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever has gripped 10 states in Nigeria barely few days into the year. Despite a recorded success in quashing the outbreak of Ebola in 2014, the re-emergence of Lassa fever is one more reason why the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) cannot afford to be complacent about deadly outbreaks in the country.

“The government also needs to maintain consistency in funding the NCDC in order to enable speedy responses to similar situations,” said Adebayo. He further explained that viruses cannot be totally wiped out, which makes sensitizing the public critical.

In light of this, here are five things you need to know about the outbreak in Nigeria

  1. It was first discovered in Nigeria in 1969

Lassa fever was first discovered in 1969 in the village of Lassa in Borno State, Nigeria and there have been countless outbreaks of various magnitude and severity across West Africa with an estimate of 5,000 deaths. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), there was a nationwide outbreak of Lassa fever in 10 states, in March 2014, which led to the loss of 20 lives, out of the 319 reported cases. The affected states were Anambra, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Edo, Gombe, Imo, Nasarawa, Ondo, Plateau and Taraba. In November last year, 270 Lassa fever cases were reported from 12 states, according to data from health officials.

  1. The disease can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person

The disease is transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faecal matter while person to person transmission occurs through direct contact with the sick person. Symptoms include nasal bleeding, bleeding through the anus and mouth, respiratory distress, vomiting, facial swelling, and back and abdominal pain.

  1. The federal government has placed a ban has been on eating rats

This might sound strange but it is real. Rats are a delicacy common to some states in the Middle Belt region, specifically Benue state. However, in order to curtail the spread of Lassa fever, Benue state government has ordered the citizens of the state to desist from eating rats in the meantime.

  1. There is no vaccine for Lassa fever

No vaccine for Lassa fever is currently available for use in humans, and the only available drug, Ribavirin, is only effective if administered within the first six days after the disease onset.

  1. The role of the NCDC 

Since its first appearance in 1969, the outbreak of Lassa fever has continued to march on. The NCDC has struggled to get in front of the disease, as most measures have been reactive rather than proactive. While the NCDC has been commended for their zeal during the Ebola outbreak, some suggest they have been negligent on Lassa fever.

Last week, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported a death toll of 40 out of 86 cases of Lassa fever outbreak in same 10 states. Today, the federal government says Lassa fever has claimed 41 lives from 93 reported cases in 10 states of the country.

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