Rats are major carriers of Lassa fever

While the attention of the world is currently focused on the new Coronavirus epidemic that broke out in China and is spreading to other countries of the world, Nigeria is reeling from a different kind of epidemic, the Lassa fever, also known as Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), a viral hemorrhagic fever which has killed tens this new year alone, and accounts for at least 5000 deaths per year in the sub-region.

Within the week, Lassa fever killed three persons, including two medical doctors and a pregnant woman at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), Kano.

The doctors, a consultant Anesthesia and House Officer were reported dead days after operating a pregnant woman, who was suspected to be a primary carrier of the disease at AKTH.

In Ondo state, 84 cases have been reported with 16 dead, according to the State Epidemiologist, Dr. Steven Fagbemi.

Fagbemi said 47 patients were on admission and responding to treatment, while 21 persons had been treated and discharged.

According to figures from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), between week one and week three of this year, the number of new cases increased from 64 to to 81, with known cases in Ondo, Taraba, Edo, Kano, Plateau, Kano, Delta and Bauchi.

The report said a total of nine states have recorded at least one confirmed case across 32 local government areas, 89 percent of which occurred in Edo, 38 percent and Ebonyi, 11 percent. The report, which covered January 13 to 19, had reported 15 percent fatality rate.

The Kano deaths have since added to the number and latest figures suggest 163 across nine states have been infected while 24 are dead.

The Abia state government also few days ago said an index case had been recorded in the state and called on residents to be vigilant and adopt hygienic measures.

So far, Lassa fever has no cure, no vaccines and can indeed be deadly. Early detection, doctors say, is key.

Yesterday, a Facebook user, Dr. Olufunmilayo raised alarm over the increasing spread of the virus, which according to her, has gone on without much awareness.

She disclosed that Lassa is spread by contact through the urine and feces of infected rats and rodents, house rats or bush rats, warning those who eat rats must stay away from it.

“This is the time to cultivate healthy habits that discourage rats from thriving in our homes. Use a rat gum/rat poisons if u have to,” she wrote.

“Don’t eat any leftover food especially in an environment that rats may be plenty. Those rats may have stooled/urinated in that food.

“When u find a dead rat in your house, don’t pick it with bare hands. The blood and bodily fluid of a living/dead rat can infect you.

“Use gloves to pick any living or dead rat u find in your house and bury it safely or burn it totally. Don’t dispose rats anyhow anywhere, please.

“Keep gutters and drainage clean especially around the house. Don’t let garbage and house waste always accumulate in your home.

“Cover foods in your house properly. Use airtight containers. Lock your cupboards. Cover holes and opening to prevent rats. Keep kitchen clean.

“If anyone just suddenly falls ill with a fever, body aches, cough, vomiting etc, kindly go to a hospital. Don’t assume it is malaria.

In a statewide broadcast last week, Ondo governor, Rotimi Akeredolu warned that Lassa fever “ is a serious infectious disease that has been in the country for some time. It is caused by an organism and spread to humans through rats.

“Lassa fever outbreak has been occurring fairly regularly for many decades, but unfortunately in the past few years, it has increased in magnitude. Sadly, within the few weeks of this year, several persons have been affected and some had died from the disease.”

He however, assured the people that there was no cause to panic, urging them to change their hygiene habits and health-seeking behaviours.