Nigeria: Lassa fever outbreak dominates front pages in Nigeria

Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - The outbreak of Lassa fever, an acute viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus that has resulted in the death of many victims, dominated newspaper front pages in Nigeria this week.

Lassa fever or Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF) was first detected in 1969 in the town of Lassa, in north east Borno State, Nigeria. It is a member of the Arenaviridae virus family. Similar to Ebola, clinical cases of the disease had been known for over a decade, but had not been connected with a viral pathogen.

Lassa frequently infects people in West Africa, resulting in 300,000 to 500,000 cases annually and causes about 5,000 deaths each year.

Outbreaks of the disease have been observed in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Central African Republic. The primary animal host of the Lassa virus is the Natal multimammate mouse (Mastomys natalensis), an animal found in most of sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Lassa fever as an acute haemorrhagic illness which belongs to the arenarvirus family of viruses, which also includes the Ebola-like Marburg virus.

The virus is probably transmitted by contact with the faeces or urine of animals accessing grain stores in residences. Given its high rate of incidence, Lassa fever is a major problem in affected countries.

The NATION, writing under two headlines -- "Lassa fever outbreak embarrassing – Minister" and "Lassa fever: Death toll hits 40", reported that the Federal Government had described as embarrassing the current outbreak of Lassa fever in the country, saying that the number of persons infected by the outbreak had increased to 86, while 40 deaths had been recorded in the affected states.

States with recorded cases are Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Plateau, Gombe and Oyo.

The NATION quoted the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, as saying at a press briefing in Abuja on Friday that "to curb the spread of the virus, families of victims will not be allowed to perform burial rites, adding that the state will take over the activities".

Adewole said: “Lassa fever is not new to us in Nigeria, what is new is that it has continued to embarrass us. The first confirmed case was in 1969, in Lassa village in Borno State. The number of cases peaked in 2012 when 1,723 cases with 112 fatalities were recorded.

“It is also important to highlight that it is not the outbreak that it is unusual, what is unusual is the large number of deaths recorded so far and these deaths came largely from three states – Kano, Bauchi and Niger.

“The three states contributed to about 75 percent of the cases and deaths. The situation in Niger is worrisome because we had unusual death dating back to August and only came to light about three to four months after and that represents a breakdown in disease notification system. We are trying to strengthen this because deaths even when they are unusual should be reported and we should not have waited for 35 cases in Niger before sitting up and that is the worrisome part of it.”

In its second story, the NATION said that the Federal Government has confirmed the death of 40 Nigerians in a Lassa fever outbreak in 10 states of the country.

Eighty-six people were infected in Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Plateau, Gombe and Oyo, according to Health Minister Isaac Adewole.

Listing measures to check the spread of the disease, the minister said, "People should avoid contact with rats and food or objects contaminated with rats’ secretions or excretion."

Shedding light on the disease, he said: “The onset of the disease is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, and malaise followed by headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, and bleeding from mouth, nose, vagina and gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure.

“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 and the incubation period is 6 to 21 days.”

He asked health facilities across the country to place emphasis on routine infection prevention and control measures and ensure that all patients are treated free.

The first case of the latest attack was recorded last November in Bauchi state. Cases were then reported in Kano and other places.

Meanwhile, authorities have placed a team of medical experts on the red alert to prevent its spread.

While the PUNCH ran the story under the headline "Lassa fever kills 35, infects 76, says FG", the VANGUARD called it "Lassa fever kills forty in ten states – Health minister".
-0- PANA VAO/MA 9Jan2016

09 january 2016 07:20:37

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