By Sola Ogundipe
Lassa virus is a member of the arenavirus family. The disease was first described in the 1950s, and the virus was identified in 1969, when two missionary nurses died from it in the town of Lassa in Nigeria.
During 2012 and 2013, more than 2900 cases were reported in widespread outbreaks that occurred across many states.
Reports of the outbreak of Lassa Fever in at least 10 states including the FCT leaving 43 dead and at least 100 hospitalized, has necessitated the need for public enlightenment and appropriate information as to protect lives.
Lassa fever is caused by infection with the Lassa virus which is spread by wild multimammate rats (Mastomys species), which shed the virus in their urine and droppings. These are common in rural areas of tropical Africa, and often live in or around homes. Once infected, rodents shed virus throughout their life. They carry the virus in their urine and faeces and live in homes and areas where food is stored.
The disease can be contacted by ingestion of foods and drinks contaminated by the saliva, urine and faeces of infected rats.
Others include catching and preparing infected rats as food, inhaling tiny particles in the air contaminated with infected rat urine or droppings, and direct contact with a sick person’s blood or body fluids, through mucous membranes, like eyes, nose, or mouth.
Persons at risk
Those most at risk include health workers, families and friends of an infected person in the course of feeding, holding and caring for them.
Within three weeks of coming in contact with the virus, symptoms include fever, headache, chills, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, backache, and joint pains.
Late symptoms include bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose, bleeding from the mouth and rectum, eye swelling, swelling of the genitals and rashes all over the body that often contain blood. It could progress to coma, shock and death.
Lassa fever is suspected in persons who present with above symptoms with a positive history of being in contact with a suspected or infected person or health worker who had treated either suspected or confirmed infected person.
Antiviral drugs can successfully treat Lassa fever. The earlier a person presents, the better the outcome of treatment.
Prevention and control
The general public is advised to take note of the following:
* Avoid contact between rats and human beings.
* Observe good personal hygiene including hand washing with soap and running water regularly
* Dispose of your waste properly and clean the environment so that rats are not attracted
* Store foods in rat proof containers and cook all foods thoroughly before eating.
* Discourage rodents from entering the house by blocking all possible entry points
* Food manufacturers and handlers should not spread food where rats can have access to it.
* Report any cases of above symptoms or persistent high fever not responding to standard treatment for malaria and typhoid fever to the nearest health centre.
* All fluids from an infected person are extremely dangerous. Health workers are also advised to be at alert, wear personal protective equipment, observe universal basic precautions, nurse suspected cases in isolation and report same to the LGA or Ministry of Health immediately.
For more information,contact the Directorate of Disease Control, Lagos State Ministry of Health on 08037170614, 08023169485.