In August 2015, Nigeria experienced the first outbreak of the Lassa virus with many confirmed cases and deaths reported. As at February that same year, statistics collected by the NCDC (Nigerian Center for Disease Control) confirmed reports of 175 cases of the virus including 101 deaths. Only 58 deaths and 83 cases were confirmed of the 175 cases according to the Minister of Health.
The outbreak spread widely to the point that the WHO reported several cases in over 19 states in Nigeria. The virus was successfully eradicated after moves by the authorities and other relevant stakeholders were initiated to halt its spread. But on August 23 2016 fresh cases of the virus has rocked the nation. Several factors have shaped the previous and current outbreaks of the virus.
Poor Interest in Rodent Control
Following the 2015 outbreak one study found that there was little awareness about rodents being one of the main vectors for the spread of Lassa virus in Nigeria. Even communities where the virus was endemic, only 36% of the population knew about it and only 51% could identify the rodent that carries the infection.
If the authorities want their plans to fight the virus to succeed they have enlighten the public about the role of these rodents in the spread of the virus through the media, NGO’s and health workers.
Being Ignorant of the Fact That the Virus is Also Transmitted From Human to Human
During the past outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria, little attention was paid to the human-to-human form of transmission. This resulted in only one out of nine Nigerians being aware of the risk of infection, according to a 2016 poll by EpiAFRIC and NOI Polls.
However, one 2015 study found that the easiest way to contact the virus might be through human-to-human transmission. The authors of this study found that one out of every five Lassa fever infection could be through human-to-human transmission.
The government has done well in this regard as Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu with EpiAFRIC stresses how crucial it is to look at human-to-human transmission of the virus.
Inadequate Protective Equipment and Hospital Infrastructure
A previous outbreak of Lassa fever in Abakalaki, Ebonyi State, started with just one index case, in which the virus was only confirmed post-mortem. Six health workers contacted the virus during a surgery on the case. It is likely that inadequate hospital infrastructure and protective equipment caused the infection. At the start of the outbreak, there wasn’t any isolation ward at the hospital where it was first reported and treated. The only suitable laboratory available was located 300 km away.
A lot has being said by the federal government regarding this mode of transmission. On Friday during a briefing with the Senate committee on health and communicable diseases the minister for health professor Adewole said measures have being initiated to curb the spread of the Lassa virus by the federal government. Protective equipment and personal have been dispatched to affected regions.
The Problem of Knowledge Gaps in Health Workers
Health workers in Nigeria do not have adequate knowledge about how to prevent hospital acquired infections. During the 2014 Lassa fever outbreak in Enugu, many health workers didn’t use appropriate protective equipment. This may have being caused by the lack of PPE at the hospital at the time or ignorance of the health workers.
The Nigerian government has embarked on the sensitization of health workers in a bid to help them have a high suspicion index and be able to take the appropriate measures when managing infectious health conditions.
Do Not Panic Edo State Government Tells Residents Following the Recent Lassa Scorge
According to reports in Nigeria on Tuesday, the Edo State government announced that it has reactivated its surveillance and response team for the control and prevention of the dreaded Lassa Fever virus. This news comes just days after the first report that states that four people have died from the disease.
According to the report, the victims in the recent cases of Lassa virus infection, including one medical doctor, died in Anambra State. Their blood samples were also collected for testing in the state and were confirmed as positive by the Centre for Lassa Diagnosis and Treatment which is located at the Irrua Specialist Hospital, Esan North-East Area of Edo State.
The Edo State Health Commissioner Dr. Eregia Ahianuwa, who gave the announcement to The Punch Newspaper in Benin City, the state capital, said that there wasn’t any need for the residents of the state to panic. She added that there have been no reported cases of the virus in the state.
Ahianuwa also said that the disease surveillance officers have swung into action following the news of infection by moving to rural communities, where more awareness about the virus was required.
“We have already taken the relevant measures to curb the situation.” She said. “Though we never really stopped, we have decided to reactivate our response team.”
“Our disease surveillance officers have already started moving out as of yesterday beyond the cities to the rural areas.” she add.
The commissioner allayed fears among residents of a possible Lassa fever outbreak.
“There isn’t any need for the panic at all as there has been no case of the virus reported in Edo State.”
“Beyond that what we need is prevention. Many people need to be aware. Once the people are constantly reminded and stick to the relevant precaution, we would have no problem.”
The Commissioner of Health also said that efforts were made to make sure that the residents of Edo state keep their environment clean to maintain a healthy hygiene. According to her, these efforts were necessary because of the position of Edo State as it is a transit region.
“We want to acquaint residents with this, in case they may have forgotten. We want them to know that we are doing everything possible to handle the situation. The good news here is that there hasn’t been any case reported in Edo State and for that we are really grateful”.
“We are aware that our state is on a transit area and many people pass through. So, once our people know that they should take the relevant precautionary measures including how to store their food and water, ensuring that they wash their hands at all times and the proper disposal of waste while also avoiding contact with the rat that transmits the virus then things will be okay for us” she concluded.