Last year, a friend mentioned to me that her friend died of Lassa Fever, and at first it sounded strange, like “what is that?” So even though I’ve heard of it and probably learnt about it in school, but like Ebola, it’s one of those conditions no one really talks about until it becomes Epidemic status. At the moment, 40 Nigerians have been reported dead in 10 affected states. Like me, you may be worried that there are only 36 states in Nigeria and that it’s bad news if these many states are already affected?
|Mastomys natalensis” by Kelly, et al – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3562201/|
What is it?
Lassa Fever like the now popular Ebola disease, is a haemorrhagic (excessive bleeding) fever viral disease that is caused by the Lassa virus. This disease was first discovered in Nigeria in a village called Lassa, in Borno State in 1969, when two Missionary nurses died. (Borno state again!).
Lassa fever is spread by a type of common rat in Nigeria and West Africa and this poses a great risk because hardly is there a home that does not have these animals as house mates. In the past, most Lassa outbreaks have occurred in Rural communities, but with increasing globalization and ease of transport, I fear this has changed and could be disastrous. It was one thing to be vexing for one Liberian man who introduced Ebola into Nigeria, but how do we chase and locate all of our own?
How does it spread?
Lassa Fever can be contracted from rat to human beings when we come in contact (touching, eating or inhaling) with their urine or faeces. While most of you would not imagine eating or drinking rat waste, it doesn’t work that way, your personal hygiene will determine if the rat droppings you packed up yesterday did not get into your food when you swallowed your Eba. Nigeria and West Africa is a finger food (Swallow) diet country so the risk of ingesting Lassa Virus is very high. Another option for transmission though not as common, is from Human to Human through eyes, nose or mouth of an infectedperson, and not through casual contact like hand shaking.
In summary here’s how to prevent it:
1. Avoid contact with the urine or
droppings of an infected rat by:
a. Keeping your homes clean to discourage rats from entereing.
b. Ensuring you wash your hands throroughly including nail beds after a possible contact.
2. Do not cook and eat rat meat (This is a delicacy for some, whether you call it bush rat)
3. Do not live or work in a room heavily contaminated with rat waste to avoid inhaling tiny particles in the air
contaminated with infected rat
urine or droppings
4. Trap and dispose rats living around you to avoid them contaminating your food supply (Use the popular rat Gum)
5. Although rare to catch the virus this way, you need to avoid direct contact with a sick person’s
blood or body fluids, through mucous
membranes, like eyes, nose, or mouth. (This is very important for health workers, as their job places them directly in the line of fire.)
Symptoms start 1-3 weeks after infection and most people who are infected have mild symptoms and
so go un-diagnosed. Mild symptoms include slight fever,
feeling tired and weak, and headache (sounds like malaria?).
However, in some people, the disease may cause more serious
symptoms like bleeding; difficulty breathing; vomiting;
facial swelling; pain in the chest, back, and abdomen;
and shock. The most common complication of Lassa fever is deafness and in many cases hearing loss is permanent.
Lassa fever can be treated
an antiviral drug, has been used to successfully treat patients with Lassa fever. It is most effective when
given soon after a patient becomes sick. Patients will also receive supportive care, including maintaining
their hydration, oxygen levels, and blood pressure, and treatment of any other complicating infections. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to this virus as the placenta is attractive to the virus so treatment usually involves aborting the foetus in a bid to save the mother’s life.
Lassa fever is different from Ebola?
Although Lassa fever and Ebola
can result in similar symptoms, Lassa fever is less likely than Ebola to
spread from person to person and is far less deadly. The death rate
from Lassa fever is approximately 1% versus approximately 70% from
Ebola. While both diseases are viral hemorrhagic fevers, bleeding and
severe symptoms are not as common in cases of Lassa fever.