By Ndidi Chukwu
The Federal Government of Nigeria on Wednesday directed all health facilities in Nigeria to emphasize routine infection prevention and control measures to ensure that all patients infected by the current Lassa Fever Outbreak is treated free.
This was made known in a Press Release by the Hon Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac F. Adewole on the present Outbreak of Lassa Fever( LF) in Nigeria, said “in response to the reported outbreaks, my Ministry has taken some measures to curtail further spread and reduce mortality among those affected.”
Adewole who said that the Federal Government has ordered the immediate release of adequate quantities of ribavirin, the specific antiviral drug for LF to all the affected states for prompt and adequate treatment of cases indicated that government has deployed some rapid response teams from the Ministry to all the affected states to assist in investigating and verifying the cases and tracing of contacts.
Other efforts by the Federal Government include sensitization and mobilization of clinicians and relevant healthcare workers in areas of patient management and care in the affected states while the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) he said is already coordinating all our response activities and reporting to me on daily basis.
He said the affected states have been advised to intensify awareness creation on the signs, symptoms as well as general hygiene.
Similarly, the health minister said it is important to note that Nigeria has the capability to diagnose LF and all the cases reported so far were confirmed by our laboratories added that, because the symptoms of LF are so varied and non-specific, clinical diagnosis is often difficult, especially early in the course of the disease.
Adewole said, in view of the major steps taken so far by the federal government, the minister of health said “All health facilities in the country are hereby directed to emphasize routine
infection prevention and control measures and ensure all patients are treated free”
“family members and health care workers are advised to always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons, and no travel restrictions will be imposed from and to areas currently affected”
He urged healthcare workers to immediately report any patient suspected to have L F to the State Epidemiologist in the State Ministry of Health or call the Federal Ministry of Health using the following numbers: 08093810105, 08163215251, 08031571667 and 08135050005.
He said the World Health Organization (WHO) is being notified of the cases confirmed expressed gratitude to WHO and other partners for the support so far.
The Minister gave the assurance that the Nigerian Government will continue to enhance its surveillance and social health education, information and communication activities to prevent the disease from spreading further in Nigeria called for the support and understanding of all Nigerians.
Furthermore, in the last six weeks Nigeria has been experiencing LF outbreak which has so far affected 8 states. The States affected include Bauchi, Nassarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo and Oyo States. The total number of suspected cases so far reported is 76 with 35 deaths, and a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 46%. Nigeria’s laboratories have confirmed14 cases, indicative of a new episode of Lassa fever outbreak.
The first case of the current outbreak was reported from Bauchi in November, 2015. This was followed by cases reported in Kano State, and subsequently the other states mentioned above.
It is worth nothing that, Lassa fever is an acute febrile illness, with bleeding and death in severe cases, caused by the Lassa fever virus with an incubation period of 6-21 days. About 80% of human infections are asymptomatic; the remaining cases have severe multi-system disease, where the virus affects several organs in the body, such as the liver, spleen and kidneys.
The onset of the disease is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, and malaise followed by headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, and bleeding from mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract, and low blood pressure.
The reservoir or host of the Lassa virus is the “multimammate rat” called Mastomys natalensis which has many breasts and lives in the bush and peri-residential areas.
The virus is shed in the urine and droppings of rats hence, it can be transmitted through direct contact, touching objects or eating food contaminated with these materials or through cuts or sores. Nosocomial transmission also occurs in health facilities where infection prevention and control practices are not observed. Person to person transmission also occurs most especially when a person comes in contact with the virus in the blood, tissue, secretions or excrement of an infected individual.