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Lassa Outbreak in Nigeria..Months and counting

Medic-ALL (01-25-2016) DISEASE

by Kayode Kuku

Just less than 2 years after the Ebola virus hit the Nigeria and other countries in the West African region, Lassa fever, another viral hemorrhagic fever, with similar symptoms as Ebola broke out in the country.

Lassa fever is an acute viral illness first discovered in Nigeria in 1969 when 2 missionary nurses died from the disease. The virus was subsequently named after the town in Borno State, Nigeria where the first cases occurred. The virus belongs to the virus family, Arenaviridae, a single stranded RNA virus which is animal borne and usually associated with rodent transmitted diseases in humans.

It is endemic in parts of West Africa including Sierra Leone, Gambia, Liberia and Nigeria notably but the risk is spread throughout the region where the disease vector, the multimammate rat (Mastomys Natalensis) is distributed.
Lassa virus is transmitted to humans by contact with excreta or urine of infected rats.

Lassa virus is transmitted to humans by contact with food or household items which have been contaminated with excreta or urine of infected rats. Since the disease is endemic in rodent population, it tends to affect communities with poor sanitation and crowded living conditions the most. Hence it is sometimes referred to as a "disease of the poor".

The present outbreak of Lassa Fever broke out in Nigeria, August 2015 and reports show that it has claimed up to 63 lives as at the January, 24, 2016  out of over 200 suspected cases spread across 17 states in the country including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Nigeria's Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, stated that 212 suspected cases have been reported in the last 3 months.

While the world's most populous black nation was praised for its prompt containment of Ebola in 2014, things appear a little more complicated in the case of Lassa , as many stakeholders including specialists have raised concerns ranging from ignorance of the disease among the vulnerable communities, leading to under-reporting of the cases and under-mining the scale of the outbreak  , and even the capacity of the country's healthcare system to deal with the outbreak at this time.

These are valid concerns, considering the "skeletal" state of the country's primary health care system and the lack of access to adequate health care in the vulnerable regions. The country reported 112 deaths and over 1700 cases of Lassa fever in 2012, yet in a population of over 170 million people, there is only one research center in the country to cater for Lassa fever research.

As far as comparison with Ebola goes, Lassa fever is not necessarily as deadly, but it spreads faster.

Meanwhile, while Lassa fever has exposed the level of preparedness of the nation's health care system to cope with such outbreaks, the WHO and US CDC are working with Nigeria Health Ministry in containing the outbreak.

Medic-All Inc. 2016

Refs: CDC, Punch Nigeria

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