Enlightenment Is Key To Fighting Lassa Fever Outbreak
SAN FRANCISCO, January 13, (THEWILL) – In the last few weeks, Nigerians have lived in fear following the fresh outbreak of Lassa fever. The epidemic, which has since spread to 10 States, has killed over 40 persons. While over 86 others have been infected, there are reports that the virus has spread to Lagos State, raising fears that more states may be infected, if urgent measures are not taken to curtail the disease.
Among states where cases of the disease have been reported are: Bauchi, Niger, Nasarawa, Kano, Taraba, Rivers, Edo, Gombe, Oyo and Plateau states. The Federal Ministry of Health has however assured that with a case fatality rate of 43.2 per cent, it is not yet enough to declare it a national emergency. But, must the nation wait for fatality rate to spike before declaring an emergency?
Lassa fever, named after Lassa village in Bornu State, where the disease first broke out in 1969, has killed several people and impaired many. The latest outbreak brings to the fore, the poor personal and environmental hygiene among the people. The virus is transmitted through urine and droppings of rats, and can also be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person, as well as touching objects, eating foods contaminated with these materials, or through cuts and sores.
Against the backdrop of high percentage of rats in homes and public places, including hospitals, and the porous mode of transmission, it has become expedient for permanent solution to be found.
THEWILL therefore calls on the government to enlighten the people about preventive measures, train environmental health workers on preventive strategies, and create isolation wards in hospitals to manage the outbreak. As a matter of necessity, prevention and safety campaigns should be launched in churches, mosques, schools as well as among market women, traditional rulers and other community leaders. To address the challenge of inadequate detection and treatment centres, it is important that every local government be provided with specialist laboratories to detect cases. Without this, there is the tendency for infected persons to be treated for malaria in ignorance, allowing the disease time to consolidate until it becomes too late.
The need for urgent attention is further situated on the fact that the virus presents symptoms that are similar to other health conditions as malaria. These symptoms include sore throat, back pain, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Others include conjunctivitis, facial swelling, proteinuria (protein in the urine), bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract, and low blood pressure.
THEWILL acknowledge the fact that there is a drug, Ribavirin, which is currently being used to treat infected persons. But, there is the danger of not detecting the disease within the 6-21 days incubation period. But then, the question that arises therefore is, in a country where there is ignorance and inadequate training among health workers, how do we manage a sudden outbreak?
Also of worry is the practice in rural areas, where farmers dry their grains in the open, thus exposing them to the disease-bearing rodents. In markets, where rats are having a field day, foodstuffs are left in the open overnight. Government should prevail on food manufacturers and handlers not to spread foods in the open, just as people should ensure that entrances are properly sealed to prevent rats from gaining access. This will drastically reduce the peoples' vulnerability, against the background of recurring cases since 1969. The disease's recurring outbreak had peaked in 2012, when 1,723 cases were reported, among which 112 people died. If this ugly scenario must be avoided, decisive steps must be taken to ensure that the epidemic is contained.
In communities where the outbreak have been reported, THEWILL would want the Federal Ministry of Health to direct the screening and treatment of people with hearing losses, which is one of the effects of the disease. This is the only way to prevent permanent deafness of such people. We strongly believe that the chances of infection could also be reduced if persons on inter-state travels are monitored.
In the final analysis, Nigerians must change their attitude in line with the enlightenment they receive, particularly as regards the very rat specie that bears the virus. Experts say the virus is conveyed by the “multimammate rat,” called Mastomys natalensis, which has many breasts and lives in bushes as well as in residential areas.