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 risk of contracting the disease.
The latest outbreak in Nigeria occurred in Ebonyi State where about 18 health workers were affected with two deaths. The infection was brought by a pregnant woman who was operated upon in the hospital, both mother and child are said to have died.
1. What Causes Lassa fever?
Lassa fever is caused by Lassa virus; it is named after the village where the virus was first identified. The virus belongs to a group of viruses which cause haemorrhagic fevers such Dengue fever, Ebola fever, Yellow fever and so forth.
2. How Does Lassa fever spread?
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.
3. When Do You Suspect You May Have Lassa fever?
The symptoms of Lassa fever are similar to those of malaria or typhoid fever and that is what makes it very dangerous.
Fever, headache, sometimes vomiting and diarrhea, yellowness of the eye balls are the symptoms. As the disease progresses, some organs may fail; bleeding may occur into the skin or/and from gums, nose, into the eyes.
Incubation period is about 7 days.
4. What can put you at risk?
Health workers are most at risk. Others include residents of farm houses which are likely to harbour bush rats associated with Lassa fever.
5. Any Possible Complications of Lassa fever?
The commonest complication of Lassa fever is deafness. Others include abortion, organ failure and about 1% of all infections end up in death.
a. Reduce contact with rats.
b. Barrier nursing-use of masks/gloves/gowns/goggles etc when attending to infected persons.
c. Isolation of infected persons
d. Food hygiene—food must be covered, protected from rats.
e. Desist from eating rats.
f. Maintaining a clean house and environment