Medical Corner- LASSA FEVER: A keg of gunpower

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lassa fever

Lassa Fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness that occurs in West Africa. It has an average duration of 1-4 weeks. Lassa Fever is caused by viruses referred to as “Arenaviruses”. Interestingly, the virus was identified first in 1969 in a Nigerian town. According to verifiable medical history, the Lassa Fever was first identified in two missionary nurses who died in Lassa, Borno State. And therefore this “new” illness which killed the two missionary nurses back then in 1969 was named after the Lassa town in Borno State. The real reason why Lassa Fever is prevalent in West Africa is because the animal vector for the virus; rat, is common here. About 80% of those with Lassa Fever have no symptoms. However, those who have symptoms may have a very severe case of the disease leading to death.

Lassa Fever is a zoonotic disease. That means human beings only get infected after contact with an animal (rat) that has the virus. The animal host of Lassa Fever virus is the common household rat that breeds easily, and is found in many Nigerian homes and kitchens. Urine and droppings from house rats into food items, as well as direct contact with this rats is what spreads the Lassa Fever virus. House rats usually feed on left-over food, or improperly kept food (both cooked and uncooked) and humans can get the virus this way. Lassa Fever can affect all age groups and all genders without any discrimination. It is commonest in rural areas and semi urban regions. People with greatest risk are those living in crowded houses with poor sanitation practices & behaviors that encourage rats to thrive. It may interest you to know that sexual transmission of Lassa Fever is a documented fact. So yes, sex is a way for one to be infected.

Early symptoms of Lassa Fever includes nonspecific complaints like sore throat, fever, headache, weakness, cough, vomiting & diarrhea. It is the nonspecific symptoms in early cases of Lassa Fever that makes many health workers assume & misdiagnose it to be something else. In severe cases, the patient starts to bleed from the mouth, anus, nose, vagina, skin; develops low blood pressure, coma & then death. The clinical diagnosis of Lassa Fever especially in its early stages can be very difficult because of its similarity to malaria, typhoid etc. A confirmation of Lassa Fever can only be made in few specialized labs devoted to it. I am happy to tell you we have some here in Nigeria. Currently there is no vaccine that protects anyone from Lassa Fever that is why prevention still remains the mainstay of dealing with it. Lassa Fever is deadly in pregnant women, especially those between 6 months and delivery date. It kills 80% of mothers & babies in this state. A common complication of Lassa Fever is deafness. One third of survivors have deafness and for many people,the hearing loss is permanent.

In an unfortunate development, Lassa Fever has been diagnosed in Lagos. This is a sad news that is an emergency. The current Lassa Fever outbreak in Nigeria has slowly become a ticking time bomb that requires all our best brains to detonate safely. The government has refused to declare a state of emergency, but this degree of speed and deaths wasn’t even achieved by the dreaded Ebola. The recent 2014 Ebola outbreak in Nigeria killed less people, infected less and spread to less states than this current Lassa Fever. In other words, we MUST stop this Lassa Fever outbreak which has already surpassed the 2014 Ebola records in deaths & spread to states. And in case you do not know, Lassa Fever and Ebola both belong to the same family of Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers. This is no child’s play.

Viral hemorrhagic Fevers are a group of illnesses characterized by multisystem dysfunction, uncontrolled bleeding, shock, coma & death. I will advise we do not put our trust or hopes in politicians who only think about the next elections, learn about Lassa Fever yourself. As we speak, Lassa Fever has killed about 41 people and affected over 86 people. Ebola affected 19 people & killed only 7. Think about it. Let’s be extra careful. If you want to wait for the Govt to declare a state of emergency before you get the knowledge, it may be too late. The onus is on us to rally together, learn about the disease, create awareness, and fight it together. We don’t have to lose more lives.?

This is the time to cultivate healthy habits that discourage rats from thriving in our homes. Use a rat gum or rat poisons if you have to. 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 you 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 you find in your house and bury it safely or burn it totally. Don’t dispose rats anyhow. Please. And to my friends from Benue, Niger or any other state where house rats are seen as a delicacy, please, STOP EATING RATS; Kindly try chicken. If anyone just suddenly falls ill with a fever, body aches, cough, chest pain etc; kindly go to a hospital. Don’t assume it is malaria. Keep gutters & drainage clean especially around the house. Don’t let garbage and house waste always accumulate in your home. Dispose ASAP. If you are a Health worker, please, observe the standard safety protection protocol in all patients who present with fever. Your life matters.

Keeping garbage in/around your home for days/weeks and refusing to clean your gutters regularly encourages the proliferation of rats. Keep foodstuff well stored in airtight containers. Use plastic/metal cans preferably. Don’t use sacks/nylons, rats invade those easily. Get a cat if you can. Keep one/two. Its okay. Their presence alone is enough to control and discourage rats from surviving in your home. And above all,don’t be scared. Keep a clean kitchen and food store. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. And encourage others in your vicinity. There is a drug called Ribavirin, it is an antiviral drug that works well for Lassa Fever cases if detected early, so no need to panic. Above all, prevention remains the best way to keep the Lassa Fever virus at bay. If you see anyone with suspected Lassa Fever case, please call 08093810105, 08163215251, 08031571667 to notify the Federal Ministry of Health.

NOTE- Clarification is in order as regards the popular bush rats that is a local delicacy our people eat, and the house rats that cause Lassa. The rats that transmits Lassa Fever virus is the multi mam-mate small house rats that has many breasts, and gives birth to many little rats. The multi mam-mate rat transmitting Lassa Fever virus is known in biological circles as Mastomys species. It is not the same as “bushmeat”. The Mastomys rat is the nasty little destructive rat that is common in many Nigerian homes especially in the kitchens and food stores. The bushmeat sold by the roadside is a different species entirely from the Mastomys rat that spreads the Lassa Fever virus. No need to fear.

Culled from tweets by @drolufunmilayo
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Hope you guys learnt a lot today. Please. let’s take these things serious and live a healthy life. Thank you.

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About the author / 

Patrick Jennifer

My name is Patrick Jennifer............ Talkative extraordinaire (aspiring OAP), Professional 'carer', Wanna-be writer, and I am sweetness personified.

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