Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Government intervenes in the fight against lasa fever following it's outbreak in Taraba.

In a race against time to contain an outbreak of the deadly Lassa fever, the Federal Government has dispatched drugs and a medical team to Taraba State.

The Taraba State Commissioner of Health, Innocent Vakkai, said on Sunday that one person had died and two others quarantined as the state moved to contain the ailment.

But the Director, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, Prof. Abdulsalam Nasidi, told The Guardian yesterday that a total of five cases and three deaths had been recorded so far from preliminary reports. He described the fatality rate as high, noting that the deaths so far were largely because the infected persons did not report early for treatment.

He, however, dispelled rumours of another outbreak in Niger State, stressing that preliminary reports indicated that there were no Lassa fever cases in the state.

In the meantime, he said a medical team, drugs and other supplies had been dispatched to Taraba to help in managing the outbreak, hinting, however, that the rate was ‘terrible.’

Nasidi said: “We are still reviewing the preliminary report. We have sent teams to Taraba. We are already working on all the samples collected. We have even sent some drugs already.”

He urged Taraba border states to activate their surveillance system to avoid further spread. “We need them to activate their surveillance so that anybody with fever, severe headache, difficulty to swallow, in particular and breathing, should be treated with dispatch. There should not be any waste of time at all. They should start taking measures.”

He observed that the patients were presenting some symptoms similar to those of malaria. Nasidi described the situation as ‘really terrible’, noting that it was taking the hospitals by surprise.

“It is really terrible,” he noted.

On treatment, Nasidi noted: “We have drugs. If we start early treatment, we are curing it. We have death rate, which is too high. But we are saving the lives of those who are reporting to us early.”

Lassa fever is described as an acute viral haemorrhagic illness of one to four weeks duration that occurs in West Africa. Experts say it is transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or fecal matter.

According to a fact sheet from the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in hospitals lacking adequate infection prevention and control measures. Lassa fever is known to be endemic in Benin (where it was diagnosed for the first time in November 2014), Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and parts of Nigeria, but probably exists in other West African countries as well. The overall case-fatality rate is 1%. Observed case-fatality rate among patients hospitalised with severe cases of Lassa fever is 15 per cent. Early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival.”

On symptoms, WHO notes: “The incubation period of Lassa fever ranges from six to 21 days. The onset of the disease, when it is symptomatic, is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, and malaise. After a few days, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, and abdominal pain may follow.

“In severe cases facial swelling, fluid in the lung cavity, bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure may develop. Protein may be noted in the urine. Shock, seizures, tremor, disorientation, and coma may be seen in the later stages. Deafness occurs in 25% of patients who survive the disease. In half of these cases, hearing returns partially after 1 to 3 months. Transient hair loss and gait disturbance may occur during recovery.

“Death usually occurs within 14 days of onset in fatal cases…

“Humans usually become infected with Lassa virus from exposure to urine or faeces of infected Mastomys rats. Lassa virus may also be spread between humans through direct contact with the blood, urine, faeces, or other bodily secretions of a person infected with Lassa fever. There is no epidemiological evidence supporting airborne spread between humans. Person-to-person transmission occurs in both community and health-care settings, where the virus may be spread by contaminated medical equipment, such as re-used needles. Sexual transmission of Lassa virus has been reported.” 

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