Lassa Fever, often called ‘Lassa hemorrhagic fever’ is a viral infection originating from rats and other rodents within the same specie family. The acute viral hemorrhagic fever first occurred in 1969. Its occurred in a town called Lassa in Borno State, northern Nigeria. The fever belongs to the ‘arenaviridae’ viral family and bears some similarities to the Ebola virus that also plagued West Africa. Just like Ebola, it took quite a number of years before the root cause was identified. The virus initially showed no association with any other viral pathogens. Lassa fever is fairly common in West Africa with close to 500,000 occurrences and 5000 deaths. The disease is not limited to the boundaries of Nigeria, as it occurs in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and some parts of the Central African Republic. The animal that primarily hosts the virus is the ‘Natal multimammate mouse’. A rodent found mostly in sub Saharan Africa.
The Lassa virus can be described as ‘zoonotic’, that is, transmitted from animals to humans. The virus originates primarily when human beings come across rodents such as the multimammate mouse. This type of mouse is most common in Africa and is even eaten as a delicacy in some parts. The virus is often times found in the feces of these rodents. Infection occurs when humans come in contact with wastes from rats. This happens when rats have access to human food substances and human beings ingest the food. Even inhalation of the particles of the virus can cause an infection. It can also occur when the virus comes in contact with broken skin or injury. It can also be transmitted across human beings. It has however not been determined whether it can be transmitted via sexual contact.
Signs and Symptoms
The virus comes with a number of signs and symptoms. It also has an incubation period of between 6 to 21 days. The major symptoms arising from infection include fever, facial swelling, muscle fatigue and conjunctivitis. Other symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, constipation, pericarditis, tachycardia, cough, chest pains, meningitis, encephalitis and even seizures.
An ELISA test is used to detect Lassa fever. This tests antigens and IgM antibodies for signs of the virus. Traces of the virus can also be found in cerebrospinal fluid. Symptoms of the virus are often mistaken for malaria. It can only be assumed to be occurring in an individual but cannot be confirmed until tested.
Preventing the virus requires keeping home areas rodent free. Keeping food items out of the reach of rodents and maintaining proper personal hygiene. For individuals treating patients with Lassa fever, gloves and masks are required to prevent contacting the disease.
Patients with Lassa fever are often isolated and should have body wastes properly disposed of. Ribavirin is quite effective in treating the disease and registers high rates of success.
Studies show that close to 20% of people admitted to hospitals with cases of Lassa fever would die from the disease. Proper prevention should therefore be employed in order to avoid contacting the virus.