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Lassa fever: Federal government activates nationwide emergency operations

With the increasing cases of Lassa fever reported across the country, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has activated a National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate the response activities.

Since the beginning of the year, Nigeria has been experiencing a sporadic increase in the number of Lassa fever cases and deaths.

Between January 1 and 24, a total of 195 confirmed cases were reported from 11 states country, leading to 29 deaths.

This figure is expected to rise as more states have reported cases of the disease.

Newsmen reported the announcement by Kaduna State on Saturday and other states – where cases and deaths from the disease have been confirmed.

Of the confirmed cases, 89 per cent were from Ondo, Edo and Ebonyi states.

Though Lassa fever remains a major public health challenge in West Africa, Nigeria bears the highest burden of the disease.

The Nigerian health agency in a statement issued on Saturday, said the increase in the number of cases at this time of the year is not unusual, due to ecological factors

It said the National EOC includes representatives from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal Ministry of Environment, World Health Organization, UNICEF, US Centers for Disease Control, and other partners.

The agency said it is also supporting states in strengthening their preparedness and response capacity.

Over the last three weeks, NCDC said it has deployed Rapid Response Teams to support five of the affected states.

It added that it has rapidly increased risk communications and community engagement activities to ensure that Nigerians are aware of the risks of Lassa fever and measures to protect themselves.

Lassa Fever occurs all year round. However, cases increase sporadically during the dry season (November through May).

Weekly epidemiological report from the health agency shows that there is a decline in the fatality rate of reported Lassa fever cases from 23.4 per cent in 2019 to 14.8 per cent this year in same reporting week.

In bid to reduce case fatality, NCDC said it will continue to support treatment centres across states to effectively manage suspected and confirmed cases.

It said Nigeria can effectively and timely diagnose samples of suspected cases as the country now has five laboratories with the capacity to diagnose the disease in Nigeria.

“These laboratories are critical to reducing turnaround time between identifying a suspected case and confirmation.

This ensures prompt case management and other response activities, thereby reducing the number of deaths.

The Director-General, NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said Nigeria is also contributing to research and other activities for the development of a Lassa fever vaccine.

“NCDC and the three main treatment centres in the country – Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Federal Medical Centre Owo and Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital Abakalilki – are set to commence Lassa fever epidemiological studies that will provide data to guide research and response activities.

“NCDC remains committed to protecting the health of Nigerians. It is important for members of the public to practice good hygiene and take measures to protect themselves and their families, he added.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF) caused by Lassa virus. The disease is endemic in Nigeria and cases are recorded all year round.

The natural carrier of the virus is the multimammate rat, but the disease is also spread through human to human transmission.

Lassa fever is largely transmitted through contact with items or surfaces contaminated with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats.

It can also be transmitted from person-to-person through contact with blood, urine, faeces and other body fluids of an infected person.

To minimise the risk of infection, members of the public are advised to ensure their environment is always kept clean to avoid contact with rodents.

Also, health care workers are advised to maintain a high index of suspicion as Lassa fever can present with fever just like malaria and other illnesses.

It is also very important that healthcare workers maintain standard care precautions when managing patients.

Early symptoms are fever, headache, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, sore throat etc. In very severe cases, the patient bleeds from body openings.

NCDC advised that if a patient does not respond to treatment for malaria or other febrile illnesses after 48 hours, it is important to test immediately for Lassa fever.

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