By Joshua Oriola
In response to the increasing number of Lassa fever cases across states in the country, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) activated a National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) on the 24th of January 2020, to coordinate response activities.
As at the 24th of January 2020, 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths had been reported in 11 states. Of the confirmed cases, 89% are from Ondo, Edo and Ebonyi States. The increase in the number of cases at this time of the year is not unusual due to ecological factors.
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 NCDC continues to support states in strengthening their preparedness and response capacity. Over the last three weeks, NCDC has deployed Rapid Response Teams to support five of the affected states. The Honourable Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire led a high-level delegation to Kano State on the 25th of January 2020, following the deaths of two health workers infected with Lassa fever. In addition, NCDC 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.
There has been a decline in the case fatality rate of reported Lassa fever cases from 23.4% in 2019 to 14.8% this year. NCDC continues to support treatment centres across states in the country to effectively manage Lassa fever cases.
In addition, five laboratories in Nigeria have the capacity to diagnose Lassa fever 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.
Nigeria is 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.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control 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.
WHAT IS LASSA FEVER?
Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria and cases are recorded all year round. The Lassa fever virus is transmitted by rodents which can be found in our environment. This contributes largely to the risk of spread that occurs in Nigeria and other countries with similar ecological factors.
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.
Health care workers should maintain a high index of suspicion as Lassa fever can present with fever just like malaria and other illnesses. It is very important that health care workers maintain standard care precautions when managing patients.
Early symptoms are fever, headache, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, sore throat etc. It is in very severe cases that the patient bleeds from body openings. 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.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) was established in the year 2011 in response to the challenges of public health emergencies and to enhance Nigeria’s preparedness and response to epidemics through prevention, detection, and control of communicable diseases. Its core mandate is to detect, investigate, prevent and control diseases of national and international public health importance.
NCDC Toll-free Number: 0800-970000-10
Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu,
DG, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control