The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) said it has registered 244 confirmed cases with 37 deaths and a case fatality rate of 15.1 per cent from 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as of January 22, 2023.
The director-general, NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, made this known in an interview with journalists today (January 30, 2023) in Abuja.
Adetifa said that the states were Ondo (90), Edo (89), Bauchi (13), Taraba (10), Benue (9), Ebonyi (9), Nasarawa (7), Plateau (5), Kogi (4), Anambra (2), Delta (1), Oyo (1), Adamawa (1), Enugu (1), Imo (1) and the FCT (1).
According to the NCDC boss, so far amongst health workers, there have been five confirmed cases and one death. This, he said, highlighted the need for healthcare workers to increase their ‘index of suspicion’.
He said that in responding to the rising cases of Lassa fever in the country, the agency has activated the national multisectoral Emergency Operations Centre for Lassa Fever (LF-EOC) at level 2 to coordinate and strengthen ongoing response activities in the country.
“The LF-EOC was activated following a risk assessment carried out on the 20th of January 2023 by subject matter experts from the NCDC, relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), stakeholders and major partners.
“The outcome of the risk assessment placed the country at a very high risk of increased Lassa fever transmission due to the following; An unprecedented upward trend in the number of confirmed cases being reported compared to previous years, an Increased number of states reporting cases in comparison to previous years.
“Increased risk of healthcare worker infections and deaths due to Lassa fever infection,” he explained.
The NCDC boss said that the purpose of the EOC activation is to achieve a coordinated national response and especially across the affected states to interrupt disease transmission, reduce the impact of the disease by reducing suffering and death (morbidity and mortality), and other socioeconomic complications of this disease.
“Healthcare is a collective responsibility of communities and governments at all levels. While the NCDC is mandated to lead the prevention, emergency preparedness, and response to public health emergencies, we rely on the cooperation and support of States in the development and implementation of evidence-driven outbreak response plans for their territories,” he said.
Adetifa stated that before the activation of EOC, the Nigerian government through NCDC’s multisectoral Lassa fever Technical Working Group (TWG) had put the following measures in place to respond to the rising cases of Lassa fever:
“Prepositioning of medicines and commodities to support Lassa fever response management. The deployment of national rapid response teams (NRRT) to hotspot states to support contact tracing, case management, risk communication and community engagement, among others.
“Development of a national incident action plan (IAP) to ensure coordinated response at all levels, planned deployment of surge staff for Lassa fever case management to high-burden states,” he pointed out.
Adetifa said that ahead of the projected rise of Lassa fever cases and as the country began to witness a rise in cases in the last week of November 2022, the NCDC prepositioned supplies for case management, infection prevention and control, laboratory diagnosis, etc., in all historical Lassa fever hotspots in the country.
“This was complemented by correspondence sent to the commissioners of health, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), state ministries of health and respective professional bodies of healthcare workers to alert and sensitise them on the situation as well as to advocate for in-state activities to respond to Lassa fever,” he said.
The NCDC helmsman said this includes doctors, nurses and other health workers provide direct patient care in the absence of standard precautions.
“Hospital staff who clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces, materials and supplies without adequate protective gear. Laboratory staff who handle blood samples of suspected Lassa fever patients without appropriate precautions.
“Most at risk for Lassa fever are persons who prepare and or handle bodies of deceased Lassa fever cases without appropriate precautions,” he said.
Adetifa called on healthcare workers to always practice standard precautions: i.e., wear gloves and other appropriate personal protective equipment while handling patients or providing care to an ill patient/relative.
“Healthcare workers should maintain a high index of suspicion for Lassa fever i.e., be vigilant and consider a diagnosis of Lassa fever when seeing patients presenting with febrile illness.
“Healthcare providers should report all suspected cases of Lassa fever to their local government disease surveillance and notification officer for immediate access to healthcare. This is essential because early identification and treatment of cases appear to be more effective and can save lives,” he advised.
Also, he counseled households to “keep your environment clean always, block all holes in your house to prevent the entry of rats and other rodents and cover your dustbins and dispose of refuse properly” to reduce the risk of Lassa fever infection.
“Communities should set up dump sites very far from their homes to reduce the chances of having rodents within their homes. Store foodstuff like rice, garri, beans, corn/maize etc. in containers that are well covered with tight-fitting lids.
“Avoid drying food stuff outside on the floor, or roadside where it will be at risk for contamination. Avoid bush burning which can lead to the displacement of rats from bushes to human dwellings. Eliminate rats in homes and communities by setting rat traps and other available means.
“Practice good personal and hand hygiene by frequently washing hands with soap under running water /or use of hand sanitisers when appropriate.
“Visit the nearest health facility if you notice any of the signs and symptoms associated with Lassa fever as mentioned earlier and avoid self-medication,” he counseled.