Health Crisis in Focus: Why Lassa Fever Spreads So Fast in Nigeria

Lassa Fever Erupts in Nigeria

A Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria has made headlines because of the rising death toll and the possibility it might be too hard to contain if not addressed quickly.

Recent reports say the Lassa fever outbreak has killed at least 43 people and made 450 people sick in Nigeria. The number is quite alarming and triggered Nigerian communities and the World health Organization to respond to the health crisis.

A Nigerian disease control expert cited possible drivers of the outbreak. This will give light to prevention and control the spread of the virus.

According to Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, says three things may be driving the recent outbreaks: First, Nigeria’s growing population and its dwindling land have led people closer to the disease host, the Mastomys rats or multimmamate rat.

Nigeria’s growing population density worsened, and lack of hygiene in its cities, are some factors driving this present outbreak,” Ihekweazu said.

Rats are not attracted to clean environments, and our cities are not the cleanest of places.”

The virus is transmitted in rodent feces and urine, which can contaminate stored food. It can be transmitted also by contact with bodily fluids from an infected person.

A multimmamate rat, the disease host of Lassa fever.
A multimmamate rat, the disease host of Lassa fever.

The Lassa Fever Outbreak in Nigeria

Since the start of 2018 until earlier this month, there were around 450 suspected cases, and 132 of those have been laboratory-confirmed.

WHO reported that more than 100 people died and 501 suspected cases were reported in Nigeria between December 2016 and June 2017. The disease has spread at an unprecedented rate in southern Nigeria.

Like ebola virus, the Lassa virus causes a viral hemorrhagic fever. It is endemic in most of West Africa, especially Nigeria, where it was discovered in 1969. Symptoms are initially similar to those of flu associated with mild or severe fever, including hemorrhaging in the gums, eyes or nose.

Measures For Prevention and Control

Lassa fever comes with no specific symptoms and clinical diagnosis can be difficult especially at the early onset of disease. In fact, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 80% of those infected will have a mild disease or no symptoms, 20% will get sick and only 1% will die. That is why laboratory testing can be crucial for accurate diagnosis.

Early treatment of Lassa fever is very important for survival and requires specialized treatment using the guanosine analogue ribavirin. Ribavirin is known to be an effective treatment if given early.

In addition, control measures to keep rodents out of homes and food sources are crucial to stop the surge of disease. Maintaining proper personal hygiene can help too. Educating the public about the disease is a powerful strategy for prevention as well.

To avoid the spread of the virus, infected persons should be isolated and their body fluids and excrement properly disposed of.

Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.