Lassa Fever: Nigeria Close To Declaring Emergency
• Govt Embarrassed By Outbreak • Death Rises To 35, Cases Now 81
• Families Barred From Burying Victims’ Bodies, Now State Property
• Non-Specific Symptoms Of Ailment Threaten Interruption Efforts
AT the rate the current Lassa Fever outbreak is ravaging in the country, the federal government may soon have no option but to declare an emergency to hasten containment, The Guardian has learnt.
As at yesterday evening, deaths from the virus had risen to 35, while a total of 81 cases have been recorded.
The death percentage is currently put at 43.2, a rate considered very high by all standards, as the federal government yesterday confirmed that Lassa Fever has continued to embarrass the country.
As part of efforts to contain the spread of the virus, the federal government has banned burial of the bodies of victims by their families. Henceforth, such bodies are state property.
Government said it took the measure to avoid further spread as such bodies would become dangerous to handlers. Similarly, because the symptoms presented by patients are in many cases similar to those of malaria and there are non-specific symptoms associated with the ailment, interruption efforts are most times made difficult.
Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, gave further updates on the ailment at a briefing in Abuja yesterday attended by key stakeholders, including officials for United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Although Adewole asked the populace not to panic over the viral disease, he announced that 10 states had so far experienced it in the last six weeks. He said government and its partners were working tirelessly to address the outbreak and bring it to an end.
His words: “The states affected include Bauchi, Nassarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Plateau, Gombe and Oyo. The total number so far reported is 81 and 35 deaths, with a mortality rate of 43.2 per cent. Our laboratories have confirmed 17 cases, indicative of a new round trip of Lassa fever outbreak.
“The first case of the current outbreak was reported from Bauchi in November last year. This was followed by cases reported by Kano State and subsequently the other states mentioned above”.
He stated that the ministry released adequate quantities of ribavirin, the specific antiviral drug for Lassa fever to all the affected states for prompt and adequate treatment of cases; deployed rapid response teams to all the affected states to assist in investigating and verifying the cases as well as tracing of contacts immediately the outbreaks were reported.
He stressed: “Clinicians and relevant healthcare workers have been sensitised and mobilised in areas of patient management and care in the affected states.
“Affected states have been advised to intensify awareness creation on the signs and symptoms, including preventive measures, such as general hygiene.
“Furthermore, it is important to note that Nigeria has the capability to diagnose Lassa Fever. All the cases reported so far were confirmed by our laboratories.
“However, due to the non-specific nature of symptoms and varied presentations, clinical diagnosis is often difficult and delayed, especially in the early course of the disease outbreak.”
He added: “Health educational materials were distributed to all states, particularly the affected areas, for effective health promotion to enhance good “community hygiene” including food hygiene and food protection practices.
“I urge all to ensure that they avoid contact with rodents/rats, as well as food/objects contaminated with rats’ secretions/excretions.”
The minister urged people to avoid drying food in the open and along the roadside.
He also advised people to cover all food to prevent rodents’ contamination, while reporting all suspected cases for enable early treatment.
He continued: “Family members and health care workers are advised to always be careful and avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons with symptoms similar to those listed for Lassa Fever and any such patients should be taken to nearest health facility.
All health facilities in the country are hereby directed to emphasise routine infection prevention and control measures and ensure that all patients are treated free.
“Additionally, all health care workers should have a high index of suspicion of Lassa Fever in patients presenting with febrile illnesses, particularly in endemic states, and all suspected cases should be reported to NCDC/FMOH and the state Epidemiologists.
“On the basis of the effective control measures now instituted by the FMOH, no travel restrictions will be imposed from and to areas currently affected.
Healthcare workers seeing a patient suspected to have Lassa fever should immediately contact the State Epidemiologist in the state ministry of health or call the NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), using the following numbers- 08093810105, 08163215251, 08031571667 and 08135050005.
“To support states and minimise impact and reduce mortality, FMOH has procured and distributed additional Ribavirin for immediate treatment purposes and creation of strategic stock for future possible cases.”
He reiterated that the World Health Organization (WHO) was being notified of the cases confirmed. The NCDC, he noted, was already coordinating all Nigeria’s response activities and reporting to the minister on a daily basis.
“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,” Adewole added.