784 Cases, 142 Deaths Confirmed In 23 States As Lassa Fever Ravages Nigeria

Lassa Fever Rats.
Lassa Fever Rats.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease and Prevention Control (NCDC) has reported 784 confirmed cases of Lassa fever and 142 deaths across 23 states in less than three months.

According to the NCDC’s official website, the infections were recorded between January 1 and March 2023.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus, with the mastomys natalensis rodent being the natural reservoir for the virus.

The virus spreads through direct contact with the urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats, or through contact with objects, household items and surfaces contaminated with the urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats. The NCDC revealed that in epidemiological week 11, the number of new confirmed cases decreased from 70 in week 10 2023 to 38 cases.

The agency reported these cases from Edo, Ondo, Ebonyi, Bauchi, Taraba, Benue, Rivers, Plateau and Nasarawa states.

Cumulatively from week 1 to week 11, 2023, 142 deaths have been reported, with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 18.1 per cent, which is lower than the CFR for the same period in 2022 at 18.7 per cent. The NCDC reported that for 2023, 23 states have recorded at least one confirmed case across 97 Local Government Areas. Ondo, Edo and Bauchi states accounted for 71 per cent of all confirmed Lassa fever cases while the remaining six states had 29 per cent of confirmed cases.

The predominant age group affected is 21-30 years, with the male-to-female ratio for confirmed cases at 1:0.9. The NCDC revealed that the number of suspected cases increased compared to the same period in 2022. One new healthcare worker was affected in the reporting week 11.

The national Lassa fever multi-partner, multi-sectoral Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has been activated to coordinate the response activities at all levels. Lassa fever initially presents like other commonplace illnesses accompanied by a fever such as malaria. Other symptoms include headache, general body weakness, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pains, chest pain, sore throat and, in severe cases, bleeding from ears, eyes, nose, mouth and other body openings.

The time between infection and the appearance of symptoms of the disease is 3 to 21 days. Early diagnosis and treatment of the diseases greatly increase the chances of patient survival. People of all age groups who come in contact with the urine, faeces, saliva, or blood of infected rats, those living in rat-infested environments, those who consume potentially contaminated foodstuff, especially those left open overnight or dried outside in the open, those who handle or process rodents for consumption, people who do not perform hand hygiene at appropriate times, and caretakers of infected persons with poor infection prevention and control measures are all at risk of contracting Lassa fever.

In conclusion, it is necessary for people to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of Lassa fever, which has claimed many lives across the country. It is important to maintain good hygiene practices and avoid contact with infected rats, contaminated objects, and food. Early detection and treatment are crucial for preventing fatalities. The government should also continue to take steps to control the spread of the virus and raise public awareness about the dangers of Lassa fever.

Racheal Abujah
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