Wednesday , 1 February 2023


There is an outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria at present. Lassa fever which also called Lassa haemorragic fever is caused by Lassa virus in the family of Arenaviridae virus. This particular arenavirus is a single RNA virus borne by animals.  Lassa fever is similar to Ebola infeatures; it is haemorragic and has an incubation period of between six to twenty, one days.  The primary animal host of this Lassa Mastomys natalensis.  This type of mouse is found though the mouse is infected by the virus, they don’t every show any symptoms in sub-saharan Africa.  This mouse deposits the virus on food grains through it urine and feaces.  Once these food items come in contact with this animal feaces and urine, the food becomes contaminated with the virus.  In turn when human beings consume such food items, they become infected.

The outbreaks of the disease have been observed in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Central African Republic.  As it is, the West African countries are most affected by this disease since it’s first identified in 1969 in Lassa town in Borno State of Nigeria.  Experts posits that Lassa virus is both zoonotic (transmitted from animals) and contagious (transmitted from one objects person to another person).  In that case apart from consuming the foods contaminated with the host’s excreta (urine and feces), one can contact from an already infected person or coming contact with objects used by infected person.

According to a research report “infection in humans typically occurs by exposure to animal excrement through the respiratory or gastrointestinal tracts.  Inhalation, of tiny particles of infectious materials (aerosol)” is believed to be the most significant means of exposure.  Such materials include: used needles, bed sheets, over-crowded places like hospital etc.  It is also acquired through broken skin or mucous membranes that are directly exposed to such infectious materials.

The above type of transmission (person to person) poses a great risk for health workers.  Health workers are thus advice to observe strict clinically code of conduct to ensure their safety.

After an incubation period of six to 21 days, an acute illness with multiorgan involvement develops. Nonspecific symptoms include fever, facial swelling, and muscle fatigue, as well as conjunctivitis and mucosal bleeding. The other symptoms arising from the affected organs are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting (bloody)
  • Diarrhea (bloody)
  • Stomach ache
  • Constipation
  • Dysphagia (difficulty
  • Swallowing)
  • Hepatitis
  • Pericarditis
  • Hypertension
  • Hypotension (low Blood pressure)
  • Tachycardia (abnormally high heart rate)
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Dyspnoea
  • Pharyngitis
  • Pleuritis
  • Encephalitis
  • Meningitis
  • Unilateral or bilateral hearing deficit
  • Seizures

Clinically, Lassa fever infections are difficult to distinguish from other viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola and Marburg, and from more common febrile illnesses such as malaria.

The virus is excreted in urine for 3-9 weeks and in semen for three months, just like in ebola disease.

All the above symptoms are noticed after the incubation period since the virus is excreted in the urine of an infected for about 3-9 weeks, coming in contact with such excreta is a risk factor.  Moreso, the semen of an infected person harbours the virus for about three months, this means that it is sexually transmitted.  Much precaution is needed by men and women of different ages.  This disease kills within 14 days in severe cases.

Everyone should be at alert as prevention is better than cure.  The Minister of Health Prof.  Isaac  Adewole has confirmed that Nigeria is experiencing Lassa fever outbreak in the past weeks in Bruchi, Taraba, Niger, Nasarawa, Kano, Rivers, Edo and Oyo.  It may likely spread to other States.  In Nigeria and other West African Countries where this disease is most prevalent, it is difficult for doctors to diagnose the disease due to the absence of proper equipment.  In Nigeria, only two states Lagos and Edo have the laboratory equipment used in diagnosing the disease.  This makes doctors to go on treating another disease instead of the Lassa.

Prevention they say is better than cure.  Since it is not possible to kill all the Mastomys rodents, measures should be taken to keep them out of the homes and food stores.  The Nigerian doctors have warned against soaking garri in cold water.  People should stop drinking garri soaked in cold water.

This according to them is because those that produce the garri does not allow it to dry on fire rather they fry it half way and spread under the sun to dry completely.  Most of the drying are done in open field or by the side of the road, near bushes.  The possibility of those mice coming to eat and thereafter handle feces and urine is there.  We should also handle sick people utmost care to avoid person to person transmission.  Agum good hygiene must be observed in the homes.

Reports have also shown that the disease is always severe in pregnant women as the feotus in womb dies even before the mother responds to treatment

When Lassa fever infects pregnant women late in their third trimester, induction of delivery is necessary for the mother to have a good chance of survival.  This is because the virus has an affinity for the placenta and other highly vascular tissues. The fetus has only a one in ten chance of survival no matter what course of action is taken; hence, the focus is always on saving the life of the mother.  Following delivery, women should receive the same treatment as other Lassa fever patients.

Finally, be aware that there is outbreak of this disease called lassa in Nigeria.  Be at alert. Don’t think there are states that it is limited to.  All the grain foods in the market are possible carriers of the virus. Cook your foods well.  See everyone as a possible carrier, remember that it can last in the urine of an infected person for about two months and in the Semen for three months.  Having unprotected sex or extra marital sex could put you in danger. Most importantly keep any type of mouse (rodents) out of your home.

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