LASSA FEVER- AN AVOIDABLE EPIDEMIC
Over the years, Epidemic has been one of Man’s worst enemies. While the health community battles with and nearly reaches a solution to one, another ushers in itself with much deadlier consequences. Some have been successfully surmounted while others have had to be managed. We have witnessed HIV cause harm on humanity, we are not also oblivious to the havoc which Ebola virus wreaked on our society, Zika Virus has announced its arrival from a distance and most recently, Lassa fever is unleashing its bout of terror. But in all these, we are not defenseless. There is always a way to protect oneself from the shackles of these viruses. Let’s put Lassa fever on the spotlight.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Lassa fever as an acute viral hemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus, a member of the arenavirus family of viruses. Since its first discovery in 1969 in the village of Lassa in Borno State, Nigeria, there have been countless outbreaks of various magnitude and severity across West Africa. Estimates of annual incidences of Lassa fever across this region reach as high as 300,000 infections and 5000 deaths. However, due to scarce resources to diagnose the illness as well as inadequate surveillance, many cases remain unaccounted.
Statistics from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) shows that reported cases of the hemorrhagic disease — confirmed and suspected — stood at 175 with a total of 101 deaths since August.
According to NCDC, 19 (including Abuja) states are currently following up contacts or have suspected cases with laboratory results pending or laboratory confirmed cases.
The ubiquity of this virus has awakened the consciousness of all and sundry and has raised questions like; what carries the virus? How do Humans contact the virus? What are the symptoms? Is there any treatment? How can I prevent myself from getting infected?
The CDC fact sheet on Lassa fever explains thus; “A rodent known as the
“multimammate rat” of the genus
Mastomys carries the Lassa virus. It is not certain which species of
Mastomys are associated with Lassa; however, at least two species carry the virus in Sierra Leone. Mastomys rodents breed very frequently, produce large numbers of offspring, and are numerous in the savannas and forests of West, Central, and East Africa. They often live in and around homes and scavenge on human food remains or poorly stored food. They shed the virus in urine and droppings.”
In other words, if a person has direct contact with its urine and droppings through touching of objects or eating food contaminated with these materials or through cuts or sores, he stands the risk of being infected with the virus.
One can also contact the virus if he inhales tiny particles in the air contaminated with rodent excretions. This is called aerosol or airborne transmission.
Persons who consume Mastomys rodents as food may be infected while trying to catch and prepare it for food.
Lassa fever may also spread through person to person contact. This type of transmission occurs when a person comes into contact with virus in the blood, tissue, secretions, or excretions of an individual infected with the Lassa virus. The virus cannot be spread through casual contact (including skin to skin contact without exchange of body fluids).
Its symptoms include fever, retrosternal pain (pain behind the chest wall), sore throat, back pain, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, facial swelling, proteinuria (protein in the urine), and mucosal bleeding.
Neurological problems have also been described, including hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis.
So far, Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, has been used with success in Lassa fever patients. Its effectiveness is evident when administered at the early stage of the illness. In addition to Ribavirin, Patients need supportive care consisting of maintenance of appropriate fluid and electrolyte balance, oxygenation and blood pressure, as well as treatment of any other complicating infections to recover well.
Of course you can be the boss of your health and keep Lassa fever at arm’s length. How?
Avoid contact with Mastomys rodents, especially in the geographic regions where outbreaks occur.
Put your food away in rodent-proof containers and keep your home clean to discourage rodents from entering your home.
Avoid using these rodents as a source of food.
When caring for patients with Lassa fever, take preventive precautions against contact with patient secretions by wearing protective clothing such as masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles; using infection control measures, such as complete equipment sterilization; and isolating infected patients from contact with unprotected persons until the disease has run its course.
It is common to hear people wonder what cockroach has in store for us. Well, regardless of the nature of epidemic that lies ahead and its host, we can be sure that simple personal hygiene can serve as a protection for us.