Why Lassa fever is spreading in Nigeria


Lassa fever, a treatable disease ravages Nigeria because cases of people suffering from it are presented late to health facilities where it can be diagnosed and treated 

By Anayo Ezugwu

NIGERIA is battling to control the outbreak of Lassa fever following an increase in the number of cases reported across the country. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, has already confirmed the death of 42 persons from the outbreak ravaging the nation.

The NCDC on January 21, declared an outbreak of Lassa in Nigeria following its situation report for week four on the outbreak of the disease which shows that from January 1 to 27, a total of 538 suspected cases were reported from 16 states. Of these, 213 were confirmed positive, two probable and 325 negative.

Since the onset of the 2019 outbreak, there have been 42 deaths in confirmed cases. The fatality rate in confirmed cases is 19.7 percent. The states which have recorded at least one of the confirmed cases are Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Plateau, Taraba, FCT, Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna, Kwara, Benue, Rivers Kogi and Enugu.

The cases represent a significant increase in the number of cases reported during the same period in 2018. The outbreak of Lassa fever has become a yearly occurrence in the country mostly from January to April. Last year, Nigeria recorded the highest reported cases in the history of the disease in the country.

Distribution of Confirmed Lassa Fever cases in Nigeria as at 27th January, 2019
Distribution of Confirmed Lassa Fever cases in Nigeria as at 27th January, 2019

However, the disease which is treatable is often presented late at health facilities. There is also hope for early diagnosis if samples are collected early as the country now has four reference laboratories where the virus can be detected. In the situation report for week four (January 21 – 27), 77 new confirmed cases were reported. These include Edo-24, Ondo-28, Ebonyi-5, Bauchi-3, Plateau-5, Taraba-3, Gombe-1, Kaduna- 1, Kwara-1, FCT-1, Benue-2, Rivers-1 Kogi- 1 and Enugu-1. There were 12 new deaths including Edo-4, Ondo-2, Benue 1, Rivers 1, Plateau 2, Taraba 1 and Bauchi 1.

A healthcare worker was affected in Enugu State during the period. This puts the total number of health care workers infected so far since the beginning of the outbreak to four.

Currently, 102 patients are being managed at various health centres across the country. This includes 34 patients at Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH) treatment centre; 40 at the Federal Medical Centre Owo; five in Bauchi; eight in Plateau; Taraba (3); Ebonyi (6); and others states (6).

The World Health Organisation, WHO, in a statement released on Friday, February 1, on the situation of the disease in the country said it has been assisting the federal government and NCDC in scaling up response to Lassa fever outbreak in states across Nigeria to strengthen rapid containment of the disease. “WHO is mobilizing experts to intervene in investigations, contact-tracing, risk communication and plans are underway to strengthen efforts to further assist Nigeria in controlling the Lassa fever outbreak”, it said.

On the outbreak, Peter Clement, WHO officer in Charge for Nigeria, said with the outbreak confirmed, WHO intensified its technical assistance to state and federal authorities in investigation and response to the outbreak. “WHO reorganised its staff to provide assistance to each of the response pillars and directed field offices to assist in outbreak investigation, coordination and response activities at the state level.

“WHO is supporting coordination, enhanced surveillance, contact tracing, and risk communication. We are also mobilizing experts to support case management and detailed epidemiological analysis to monitor situation in the affected states. Through the polio infrastructure in the state field offices, WHO is also providing technical assistance and coordination of partners in the affected states,” he said.

Kola Oyedepo, public health administrator, said the government at all levels and health experts in the country need to embark on public enlightenment campaign among people living in the rural areas in the affected states. The campaign, he said, should educate them about the virus and how to avoid contact with the specie of rats that transmit the deadly virus to the human body through food and other consumable items.

Likewise, Ondo State government has inaugurated an Emergency Response Committee on the deadly disease. The committee, headed by Wahab Adegbenro, state commissioner for health, is to embark on campaigns, advocacy visits to royal fathers and religious leaders and to identify a dump site for human wastes. Also, the committee was asked to ensure that Lassa fever was flushed out of the state within the shortest possible time.

After its inaugural meeting, Adegbenro, said the campaigns would sensitise residents of the state to the need for them to keep their environment clean and observe hygiene law at all times. “Our people need to maintain cleaner environments, shun the habit of indiscriminate dumping of refuse around your homes so as not to attract rats. Government has set in motion immediate plans to evacuate all rubbish dump to keep rats far away.

“The original source is from rats to human, but we have lots of human to human transmission and this is more reason it is imperative to report any suspicious case to the nearest health facility where necessary tests would be carried out to ascertain if it is malaria or not so as to have such patient appropriately referred. It is part of our culture to care for our sick ones, but while doing that, we must be very careful, bearing in mind the outbreak of this deadly disease.”

Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, dizziness, sore throat, malaise, cough, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, hearing loss among others. Lassa fever is transmitted from the excreta or urine of the multimammate rat. Anyone who is suspected of being in contact with a Lassa patient victim needs to be presented to the health facilities within a period of 21 days.

– Feb. 8, 2019 @ 12:59 GMT |

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