As the nation battles with various health challenges, a new wave of concern has emerged as cases of Lassa fever surge across Nigeria.

As Nigeria faces a growing threat from the resurgence of Lassa fever, concerted efforts must be made to protect prone communities.

With new records of the outbreak in some states, health authorities are on high alert to contain its spread and protect public health.

Recent records show a worrying increase in cases across several states, highlighting the urgent need for heightened awareness and preventive measures.
Lassa fever is a viral hemorrhagic illness caused by the Lassa virus, primarily transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected Mastomys rodents (multimammate rats) or through food or household items contaminated with the urine or feces of infected rodents. The virus can also spread from person to person through direct contact with bodily fluids.

Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria and parts of West Africa where the multimammate rat, the main reservoir of the Lassa virus, is common.

A health report from World Health Organization (WHO) in 2023, revealed that Nigeria experienced a large outbreak of Lassa fever, with 4702 suspected cases, five probable cases, and 877 confirmed cases between epidemiological weeks 1 and 15 of 2023 (week ending 16 April).

The report also showed that 26 out of 36 states had cases recorded, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with a high proportion of confirmed cases (about 72percent) concentrated in three states: Ondo-32 percent, Edo-29 percent, and Bauchi-11 percent.

Laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported in states bordering Cameroon (Adamawa, Benue, Cross Rivers, and Taraba) and states bordering Benin (Oyo and Niger).

In January, two new cases of Lassa fever outbreak were recorded in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Similarly, the Ebonyi State Ministry of Health disclosed 10 new cases of Lassa fever outbreak in the state from January 4 to February 16, 2024. The Disease Surveillance Notification Officer, Sampson Orogwu, mentioned that 25 persons got infected with the virus amongst which included 2 health care workers.

Based on the statistics provided by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms typically occur between 1-3 weeks after the patient comes into contact with the virus.

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC), as at February 18, 2024, a total of 477 confirmed cases have been recorded for the year with a total of 85 deaths. 89 Local Government Areas have been affected from 24 states, with 11 healthcare workers affected.
Early symptoms of Lassa fever may include fever, weakness, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In severe cases, it can lead to hemorrhagic manifestations such as bleeding from the gums, nose, or eyes, as well as organ failure. Neurological problems have also been described, including hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis.

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The most common complication of Lassa fever is deafness. Various degrees of deafness occur in approximately one-third of infections, and in many cases hearing loss is permanent.

However, the severity of the disease does not affect this complication: deafness may develop in mild as well as in severe cases.

Transmission occurs throughout the year. However, large seasonal outbreaks occur during the dry season, typically from December to April.

Therefore, medical experts urge the general public especially those in affected states to ensure adherence to the recommended guidelines issued by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) and health authorities of the states to stay safe and protected.

In the face of the resurgence of this disease outbreak, it is essential to take the following preventive measures to reduce the risk of contracting Lassa fever:

Maintain Hygiene: Practice good hygiene by washing hands frequently with soap and water, especially after handling food, using the toilet, or coming into contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.

Rodent Control: Keep your surroundings clean and free of food debris to discourage rodents from nesting. Seal all entry points to your home and store food items in rodent-proof containers.

Avoid Contact: Minimize exposure to rodents and their urine or feces. If you notice signs of rodent infestation in your home, seek professional pest control services immediately.

Personal Protective Equipment: Health workers should use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for suspected or confirmed cases of Lassa fever to prevent transmission.

Seek Medical Attention: If you experience symptoms suggestive of Lassa fever, such as persistent fever or bleeding, seek prompt medical attention and inform healthcare providers of any potential exposure to the virus.

According to WHO, early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment is critical and improves survival. The antiviral ribavirin has been used to treat Lassa fever but its efficacy is unproven. Also, there is currently no vaccine that protects against Lassa fever.

Health authorities have urged citizens to remain vigilant, emphasizing the importance of sanitation and hygiene practices to minimize the risk of infection as well as employ caution while consuming rodents, as prevention is key in fighting the resurgence of this viral outbreak