Patients experience fever, nausea, diarrhoea, meningitis and in severe cases bleeding from orifices such as the eyes and the eyes, a complication that leads to death. The mortality rate is steadily climbing, at last count it stood at 44% and various news reports have it that the fever has shown up in Abuja the Federal Capital Territory and 11 states in Nigeria. 43 deaths have now been recorded in Nigeria.
Lassa fever or Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF) is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus and first described in 1969 in the town of Lassa, in Borno State, Nigeria. It is similar to ebola, in the presentation of symptoms by patients especially bleeding via openings.
The first case of the current outbreak in Nigeria was reported from Bauchi state in November, 2015.
Lassa frequently infects people in West Africa. It results in 300,000 to 500,000 cases annually and causes about 5,000 deaths each year. The virus is probably transmitted by contact with the faeces or urine of animals accessing grain stores in residences.
Transmission from person to person has also been established, which presents a risk for healthcare workers. Though no cases have been documented via sexual contact, it is imperative to note that the virus is excreted in urine for 3-9 weeks and in semen for three months.
Control of the Mastomys rodent population is impractical, so measures are limited to keeping rodents out of homes and food supplies, as well as maintaining effective personal hygiene. Gloves, masks, laboratory coats, and goggles are advised while in contact with an infected person.
Prevention of Lassa fever relies on promoting good hygiene in communities to discourage rodents from entering homes. Family members should always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons. In health-care settings, staff should always apply standard infection prevention and control precautions when caring for patients, regardless of their presumed diagnosis.
The Minister for Health, Professor Isaac Adewole has advised healthcare workers seeing a patient suspected to have Lassa fever to immediately contact the State Epidemiologist in the state ministry of health or call the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Federal Ministry of Health using the following numbers: 08093810105, 08163215251, 08031571667 and 08135050005.
An estimated 51 million Nigerians may be at risk of contracting the disease especially those in rural communities with the annual number of deaths put at 58,330.
For further reading, check this United Nations Fact Sheet