Lassa fever infection which started in Bauchi State, Northeast Nigeria in November 2015 has now spread to ten states. The states are Bauchi, Taraba, Gombe (North east Nigeria); Plateau, Niger, Nasarawa (North central Nigeria); Oyo (Southwest Nigeria); Edo and Rivers (South south Nigeria).

A total of 86 persons have so far been infected by Lassa fever virus in the current outbreak with 40 deaths, that is, about 43 percent mortality. This was announced by the minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole in Abuja, yesterday. He said a medical emergency is being contemplated by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Lassa fever is an acute viral infection which was first diagnosed in Lassa village in Borno State in 1969, the disease is named after the village. Since then it has become endemic in West Africa where about 500,000 cases are recorded yearly with about 5000 deaths. The symptoms and signs are similar to those of Ebola and Dengue fevers and even malaria. Consequently, health workers are at very high risk of contracting the disease.

Lassa fever is caused by Lassa virus that belongs to a group of viruses which cause haemorrhagic fevers such dengue fever, Ebola fever, yellow fever and so forth.

The reservoir of infection is a particular type of rat—the Natal multimammate mouse which is found in sub-Saharan Africa. It is normally resident in the bush but is driven into houses during bush burning during the dry season.

The virus lives and multiplies in the rat. It is contained in the urine and stool of rats. The urine can contaminate exposed food and man contracts the disease if he eats the contaminated food. The stool can become dried up and with dust can be breathed in during sweeping of the floor or in a windy situation.

It spreads from person to person through direct contact with body fluids-saliva, nasal discharge, blood of infected persons

The disease has a mortality rate of about 1 percent.

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