Without prior knowledge of the root cause of Lassa Fever scientist from Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, ISTH, Deltas State, Nigeria; Public Health England, PHE, in the United Kingdom and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, BNITM, in Germany performed a medical feat.
In what is essentially a world first, the Nigerian and European scientists in collaboration with the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, NCDC, and the World Health Organization (WHO), utilized a novel, rapid, portable genomic sequencing technology to identify viruses, during the 2018 Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria.
The scientists performed, for the first time at the epicenter of an unfolding outbreak, a complicated procedure known as metagenomic nanopore sequencing through which they were able to identify the circulating viruses, helping to allay fears and direct the public health interventions to limit the spread of the virus and protect more people from possible infection.
According to the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) which is Germany’s largest institution for research, services and training in the field of tropical diseases and emerging infections said, “It is the first time such technology would be utilized during an ongoing Lassa fever outbreak.”
Professor Miles Carroll, Head of Research and Development of the National Infection Service at Public Health England said, “Viruses are constantly changing, becoming more or less infectious and deadly over time. By studying their genetic code, we can better understand where the virus has come from and how it spreads. Our previous tools to probe viral genomes took over a month to provide insights. Now, we can view results in as little as one day and in a field situation, guiding the public health interventions we deliver and ensuring we can act fast to stop more people becoming ill. Human-to-human transmission of viruses is something we always want to avoid, but in this instance, the evidence indicated that we also needed to act in other areas for maximum impact.”
Also speaking, the Chief Medical Director of ISTH, Prof Sylvanus Okogbenin, said, “the result of the sequencing reassured managing Clinicians in ISTH, the main center for the diagnosis and treatment of Lassa fever in Nigeria.”
The Director General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, noted, “The results from the study, which were made available to NCDC as they became available, were critical in enabling us to provide answers to questions during the outbreak and focus response measures appropriately.