Research Key To Understanding Lassa Virus – NCDC

The director-general, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa.
The director-general, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has emphasised the need for increased research on Lassa fever in the country.

According to the director-general of the NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa research is crucial for better understanding the virus and developing evidence-based policies and strategies to prevent and respond to it. To this end, the NCDC, in collaboration with local and international partners, including the University College of London (UCL) and the Johns Hopkins Programme for International Education in Gynaecology and Obstetrics (JHPIEGO), hosted a two-day colloquium and workshop to discuss Lassa fever research in Nigeria.

The aim of the colloquium was to review the current state of play and identify priorities for research that would bring about a better understanding of Lassa fever transmission using a One Health approach. The One Health approach involves identifying means of strengthening surveillance, improving forecasting, positioning the country for vaccine trials and providing travel along the therapeutics development pathway, all as part of the development of a five-year Lassa fever research agenda.

The colloquium covered a wide range of topics, including epidemiology, molecular biology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of Lassa fever, as well as the social, economic, and cultural factors that influence the spread of the disease. Keynote speakers, panellists and presenters shared their expertise and insights, and interactive sessions, breakout groups, and networking activities enabled participants to exchange ideas, ask questions and explore potential collaborations. Lassa fever survivors also shared their experiences and perspectives.

The director of People and Nature Lab and Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER) at UCL, Prof. Kate Jones said that with the rapid development of socio-ecological knowledge of Lassa fever and new clinical technologies for its control, the workshop was a hugely exciting opportunity to transform responses to Lassa fever in a changing world. She added that the gathering and sharing of data and knowledge were critical for putting policies in place to prevent, accurately detect and reduce the Lassa fever disease burden in Nigeria and the world.

Lassa fever is a viral haemorrhagic fever currently endemic in Nigeria and other West African countries such as Ghana, Benin Republic, Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone. It is mainly transmitted to humans by the blood, urine, or excreta of multi-mammate rats. Human-to-human transmission of the Lassa virus is common among close contacts of confirmed cases, such as household members and healthcare workers. While approximately 80 per cent of Lassa virus infections in humans are either asymptomatic or mild, infection in the remaining 20 per cent manifests as a febrile illness of variable severity, sometimes associated with multiple organ dysfunctions with or without haemorrhage and, in severe cases, resulting in death.

Science Nigeria reports that Lassa fever cases have steadily increased over the years, with 4,908 suspected cases, 897 confirmed cases and 154 deaths recorded as of April 23, 2023, in comparison with 4,272 suspected cases, 751 confirmed cases and 140 deaths recorded in 2022.

However, the NCDC has established and supports a network of Lassa fever diagnostic laboratories and overall clinical expertise has greatly increased in Nigeria through the efforts of the hospitals in Irrua and Owo, particularly.

Partners such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC), The World Bank, African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), Georgetown University (GU) and the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) have contributed immensely to the reduction of fatality rates related to the outbreaks.

Racheal Abujah
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