Forty people have died across the country from the outbreak of Lassa fever in the last six weeks. So far, 397 cases have been reported and all patients are to be treated free.
This was disclosed in a statement by the minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, yesterday.
The minister said that six of the dead were health workers (two doctors and four nurses) and that cases have been reported in 12 states Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Ebonyi, Taraba, Yobe, Ondo, Rivers, Gombe, Anambra, Delta and Lagos.
Out of the 397 cases reported, only 87 cases have been positively confirmed by medical officials. Chukwu narrated the case of a 28-year-old female corps member who completed her three weeks orientation in Rivers State but travelled home to visit her families in Afikpo and Abakiliki, capital of Ebonyi State, where she contracted the fever on January 1 and died two days later.
On what the Ministry is doing to contain the situation, Chukwu said adequate quantities of Ribavirin injections and tablets, the specific antiviral drug for Lassa fever, have been released to the affected states.
He also said that the ministry has deployed rapid response teams to all affected states and there is great emphasis on routine barrier nursing precautions.
He said, "Nigeria has the capability to diagnose Lassa fever and all the cases reported so far were confirmed by our laboratories."
Chukwu added that no travel restriction will be imposed on the affected areas but hotlines have been provided for health workers for expert advice. The numbers are: 08037154575, 08023214998, 08037879701 and 08023047101.
However, the minister of state for health, Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, in a media conference yesterday, said the ministry has also distributed over 750,000 doses of Ribavirin doses of injection and tablets as well as safety gloves and protective vests for health workers.
He said that there are nine specialist centres across Nigeria where tests on Lassa fever can be done. Pate advised Nigerians not to panic as the government is responding promptly and effectively to the outbreak.
Lassa fever is a viral disease that attacks the liver, nervous system, spleen and kidney, causing them to bleed, hence the haemorrhagic fever. According to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, Lassa fever was first described in 1969 in the town of Lassa, in Borno State, Nigeria, in the Yedseram river valley at the south end of Lake Chad. It is an infection that is endemic in West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and even Central African Republic and Congo DR. About 300,000-500,000 cases occur annually, with approximately 5,000 deaths. Symptoms of Lassa fever include fever, retrosternal pain (pain behind the chest wall), sore throat, back pain, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, conjunctivitis, facial swelling, proteinuria (protein in the urine), and mucosal bleeding, bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure.
The virus lives in rats and infects humans when they come in contact with these rats' urine and faeces. Pate explained that increasing awareness is being created for Nigerians to avoid rats and keep them away from stored food and drinking water. People living in rural areas or in crowded and unsanitary environment, where rats breed, are at the greatest risk.
However, health experts warn that Lassa fever can be contracted through body fluids like blood and excrements of infected persons.