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Preventing Lassa fever infection in Nigeria



The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, recently confirmed reported cases of Lassa fever infection in Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau,Taraba, Rivers, Edo, Delta, Kogi, Ebonyi, Zamfara, Ekiti, Lagos State, Gombe State, Oyo State, Bauchi State, Kano State, Ondo State and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

At a meeting of the National Council of Health in Abuja recently to adopt strategies for combating Lassa fever and other viral diseases in the country, he warned that health managers should not deceive executives by keeping silence on the spread of the disease.

The minister alleged that Ebonyi denied reporting five suspected Lassa fever cases and one death arising from the disease, describing the development as conspiracy that would hinder various precautions aimed at preventing the disease.

Adewole, nonetheless, assured the public that the Federal Government would maintain high level of alert to eliminate the disease soon.

“With the resources available, we will collectively eliminate the disease in Nigeria soon; we have special facilities around us and we have adequate human resource to address the challenge.

“We will strengthen the primary healthcare centres across the country to enhance the surveillance mechanism,’’ he said.

The minister promised Nigerians that 5,000 primary healthcare centres would be activated before December.

“A committee had been set up to map out healthcare centres across the country that would benefit from the programme; at least one primary healthcare centre will be functional in a ward,’’ Adewole said.

The minister further announced that six most affected states — Niger, Nasarawa, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi and Ondo — would have Lassa fever diagnostic centres in addition to the six existing Lassa fever treatment centres.

The existing centres are located in Irrua in Edo, University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, Maiduguri, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano,Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Lagos, University College Hospital, Ibadan and the National Centre for Disease Control, Asokoro, Abuja.

He said the ministry had directed immediate supply of adequate quantities of anti-viral drug for Lassa fever to all the affected states.

Adewole added that the ministry had also deployed rapid response teams to all affected states to assist in investigating and verifying fresh cases of the disease.

He also said relevant healthcare workers had been sensitised and mobilized to provide effective healthcare to patients in the affected states.

He advised family members and healthcare workers to always be careful and avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for the sick infected by the disease.

He warned Nigerians against the use of rat poison to eliminate rodents, observing that it could result in food poisoning.

He, however, solicited the use of traps and drying of food items in protected environment to stop rats and other animals from invading homes.

He said effective collaboration with states and local governments on prompt information on the outbreak of any disease and dangers posed by Lassa fever would go a long way in curtailing the virus.

The minister directed health facilities in the country to emphasise routine infection prevention and control measures and ensure that all Lassa fever patients were treated free.

“Government had also raised a four-man expert committee, led by Prof. Michael Asuzu, to visit Kano State, Niger and Bauchi State.

“The committee will embark on a fact finding mission, assess the current situation, document response experiences, identify gaps and proffer recommendations on how to prevent future occurrences,’’ he said.

According t him, the task of the committee is to document lessons learnt for better planning of an affective responsive.

Beside this, he said the Federal Government had also given the Committee on the Eradication of Lassa fever in Nigeria, headed by Prof. Oyewale Tomori, President, Nigeria Academy of Science, a mandate to provide a one-health approach to the complete elimination of the disease in the country.

Adewole said the committee and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) would design an effective response plan for fighting and preventing the spread of Lassa fever in Nigeria.

He enjoined the committee to offer professional advice to the NCDC and the ministry to arrest current and future Lassa fever outbreaks in the country.

He advised the committee to use the fund provided for the assignment judiciously, promising that the ministry would provide enough funds.

In his response, Tomori pledged that the committee would do the needful to ensure the eradication of Lassa fever in Nigeria.

For the benefit of hindsight, 63 persons have died of Lassa fever out of 212 reported cases from the affected states as at Jan. 19.

Medical experts note that Lassa fever is an acute febrile illness involving bleeding and subsequent death in severe cases. It is caused by the Lassa fever virus with an incubation period of between six and 21 days.

The onset of the disease is accompanied by fever, general weakness, depression, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea and vomiting.

Other symptoms are diarrhoea, cough and bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure.

The host of the Lassa virus is a type of rats that has many breasts and lives in the bush and around residential areas.

The virus is shed in the urine and droppings of the rats and can be transmitted through direct contact, touching objects or eating food contaminated with these materials or through cuts or sores.

Person to person transmission also occurs most especially when a person comes in contact with the virus in the blood, tissue, secretions or excrements of an infected individual.

For effective prevention against Lassa fever spread, Dr Olutayo Haastrup, the spokesperson of the National Hospital Abuja, said that the hospital had designated isolation wards for the management of any suspected Lassa fever outbreak in Abuja and its environs.

According to him, the hospital had prepared four isolation wards and introduced standard precaution in handling any outbreak.

“The hospital is fully prepared, measures have been taken and as soon as we have any suspected case of Lassa, we will be proactive in handling it.

“We have created isolation wards in the hospital and all the necessary kits and facilities have been procured,’’ Haastrup said.

He said the hospital management had trained 200 health personnel in the hospital to raise more awareness on the treatment and management of the virus.

Further to these measures, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Nasarawa State said it had embarked on a statewide sensitisation to educate the people on ways to prevent the spread of Lassa fever in the state.

Mr Elisha Iyakwari, the Acting-State Director of the agency in the state, said the sensitisation was to educate the public on measures to adopt in the event of any suspected cases of the disease.

All in all, stakeholders in health sector commend the Federal Government on its response to the outbreak of the disease, observing that the government has demonstrated the will to prevent the spread Lassa fever and other virus diseases in Nigeria.

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