Rats also share - Lassa Virus

Lassa fever is an acute haemorrhagic and often fatal disease caused by a virus. It is a zoonotic disease that is transmitted to humans when excreta from rodents (mastomys) have contact with human food or household items.  It could also be transmitted from person to person through direct contact with infected blood or bodily secretions (where adequate infection control measures are not present). It was first identified in the year 1969 in a town in Borno State Nigeria known as Lassa. The virus (Lassa virus) was named after the town where the first cases originated. It is prevalent in many parts of West Africa. The number of Lassa virus infections per year in West Africa is estimated at 100,000 to 300,000, with approximately 5,000 deaths.
Its signs and symptoms could occur within three weeks after contact with the virus. Majority of these symptoms are mild and go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. These include slight fever, general malaise, weakness and headache. It may progress to more debilitating symptoms which include constant vomiting, pain in chest, back and abdomen, respiratory distress, haemorrhage (bleeding) and shock. Complications that may arise from the disease include neurological loss which may cause deafness and death. The disease is especially severe late in pregnancy, with maternal death and/or fetal loss occurring in greater than 80% of cases during the third trimester.
Treatment using antiviral drug – ribavirin is only effective when used at the early stage of the disease (between 1-6 days). Also, early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival.  Vaccines are not available for the prevention of Lassa fever. Control measures include avoiding contact with rodents, discouraging rodents from visiting by keeping trash cans tightly closed and away from residential areas and maintaining a clean environment. Other control measures include the following:
·         Close observation of sick persons presenting symptoms for early detection.
·         Treatment of patients with care and caution – observing standard infection prevention and control precautions when caring for patients and
·         Conduction of awareness campaigns among the affected population.

      By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

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