The recurring outbreak of the Lassa fever has become worrisome and life threatening in the region of West Africa, especially in Nigeria where more than 130 people have lost their lives to the deadly disease according to the Centre for Disease Control an Prevention (CDC).
Lassa fever is a hemorrhagic disease caused as a result of contact with the faeces or urine of infected rats, usually a multimammate mouse who carries the virus. The disease is hemorrhagic as it causes bleeding of the victims, although many of those infected do not develop symptoms.
The widespread nature of the disease in several states in Nigeria, including Ondo, Nasarawa, and Edo , has caused fear amongst inhabitants of these states.
Lassa fever is endemic in the rodent population in many parts of West Africa. It has an incubation period of between six to twenty one days. Transmission can also occur through contact with an infected person via bodily fluids including blood, urine, saliva, sperm, vomit and faeces.
Presently, over 100 patients have been quarantined in designated treatment centres across the country. The CDC said in a statement on its website on the 5th of February that the highest casualties were recorded in the southwestern state of Ondo, with more than 16 deaths and 84 confirmed cases. This is not limited to the southwestern states, with some cases also reported in the northeastern state of Borno. It is worth noting that the disease got its name from a village in Borno, where it was first reported.
So, how can Nigeria control the spread of Lassa fever?
This spread of the virus needs to be controlled to ensure that citizens can go about their daily lives without fear of being infected. However, the approach to combating this deadly virus needs to be holistic, as the current level of awareness and education on control, prevention and treatment is poor.
Government, especially the local government, need to raise the level of awareness by ensuring that adequate information about the transmission of Lassa fever reaches citizens. Currently, many people in villages and towns where there has not been any reported cases, are not aware of the virus. Awareness of Lassa fever can be raised through dissemination of information in the local languages of the people. This allows people to have a better understanding of the virus and therefore avoid contact with rats and ensure their environment is kept clean to prevent rats inhabiting households.
Another important area the government must focus on is the allocation of adequate funding to the health sector to help fight similar future health emergencies. Centres for the treatment of Lassa virus need to be built across the country to ensure that cases are reported early and treatment can be quick, to prevent it from becoming widespread.
Research should be carried out on the virus and similar viruses such as Ebola, in order to help Nigeria produce vaccines and other drugs to fight these deadly diseases.
West African states must come together to develop a joint effort against the spread of communicable diseases in the region and help to improve the health of the citizens of member states. This approach can help reduce the high cost of research and aid in the prevention of these diseases, ensuring their citizens can live a better life.