Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt — A medical doctor in Rivers State has been confirmed dead after being diagnosed of Lassa fever in the state's apex hospital, the Brewaithe Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMH), Port Harcourt.
The situation caused panic within the hospital as some patients were seen fleeing the facility with their belongings. Investigations revealed that the doctor, whose name was undisclosed as at press time, was one of the health officers that attended to the victims.
State Chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Furo Green, while confirming the incident, said the corpse had been taken away for burial.
This brings the casualty figure from the ailment in the state to three. Two deaths, involving a mother and her child, were recorded last week.
Green called for caution, saying there was no cause for panic as "everything is under control."
"The hospital has placed those who have contact with the doctor under surveillance and all the equipment and facilities used in treating him and the ones used by him have been confiscated.
"So, there is no need to panic. But for now, there is emergency situation in BMH. The hospital is not accepting patients for now," he added.
Meanwhile, the outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria, which had in the last one week claimed several lives, was yesterday described as a national embarrassment by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole.
Adewole, who was making submissions before the senate committee on Health on efforts being made by his ministry at curtailing the outbreak, said the disease being a native of West Africa, was supposed to have been rendered impotent over the years.
"Unlike Ebola, which took the nation by surprise last year, after being imported from Liberia by an infected person, Lassa fever which has over the years registered its presence in the country, supposed not to have taken us by surprise, had infected people reported promptly," he said.
He disclosed that the current outbreak started in August last year in Foka village in Niger State but snowballed into an outbreak now across nine states of the federation due to non-reportage of its infection and death of victims to the appropriate authorities.
According to him, the Foka incident in Niger State last year killed not less than 17 villagers in succession without prompt report to the state government due to superstitious belief.
He said there are nine labouratory centres across the country for prompt detection of the infectious virus carried by rodents out of which six are functioning now in Ibadan, Abuja, Maiduguri, Kano, Iruwa etc.
Also, residents have been advised not to panic as the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH) has the capacity to diagnose Lassa fever because a treatment centre has been set up with rapid response team ready to take samples, and administer treatment, according to the Chief Medical Director, Prof. Aaron Ojule.
He canvassed good hygiene total restraint from self-medication whenever feverish symptoms surface, urging calm, "as the deadly disease is not as lethal as Ebola."
Ojule, in an interview with The Guardian however, advised health practitioners to be very careful with people with persistent fever and to always wear protective equipment as well as report any incident to the Lassa fever treatment centre at the hospital.
This happened as doctors in the state embarked on a three-day strike following the continuous kidnap of their colleagues.
Citing reasons for its action, the NMA chairman regretted that two of its members were kidnapped a few days ago while 21 of its members were abducted last year.
The regular abduction of doctors in the state last year brought the health sector to a stand still as the doctors embarked on a prolonged industrial action, protesting the incidents.
Some of the victims died in the hands of their abductors, while some were released after sustaining gunshot injuries.
Like a wild fire, reminiscent of the dreaded Ebola virus, Lassa fever and the deaths it has so far unleashed on 10 states are spreading fear across the country. And this should compel Nigerians to seek solace in personal hygiene, according to some stakeholders in the health sector.
In response to the potentially epidemic situation, the National Hospital, Abuja where a 33-year-old man died of the virus on Wednesday, has set up an isolation centre within the facility. The centre, officials said, is for the treatment of the ailment.
The Federal Government has also placed 15 persons under surveillance following the incident recorded in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Government is also tracing 35 persons who may have had contact with the victim is also ongoing.
Spokesperson of the National Hospital, Mr. Tayo Hastrup, who confirmed the development, stressed that a medical team had been put on notice to deal with any emergency situation.
He noted that so far tests conducted on the other suspected patient came were negative.
In the meantime, the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole said the failure of the notification system made it impossible for the Ministry to response promptly to the situation in Niger State, reiterating that the Federal Government's mission and mandate in the health sector was to keep every Nigerian safe.
Ifeanyi Godwin, a family physician, in a chat with The Guardian yesterday said, contrary to the general belief that the disease could only be caused by certain specie, all rodents, including house rats, are potential carriers of Lassa Fever. Godwin, who is also the Deputy Medical Director at the Kupa Hospital in Lagos State, warned against poor personal hygiene.
Godwin described Lassa virus as zoonotic, meaning "it is transmitted from animals. It is (caused) by rodents (rats), the common species in equatorial Africa. It transmits by contaminating human food with rodent feaces, urine. It can also occur through aerosol in air, which can be inhaled. It can enter through broken skin and mucus membranes and can be transmitted from person to person,' he explained.
Asked to suggest ways of avoiding the disease, Godwin said all measures adopted to ward off the Ebola virus should be applied now.
According to him, "people should keep clean environment, avoid uncooked food, wash fruits and vegetables properly and wear gloves, goggles and gowns when nursing infected person. All the measures adopted during Ebola should be instituted to avoid an epidemic."
Meanwhile, the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, yesterday denied admitting the first Lassa fever patient in Lagos State.
Management of the hospital said, contrary to reports making the rounds, Lagos is yet to record any case of Lassa fever.
Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Prof. Adewale Oke, said that the medical emergency session of the hospital received a bleeding patient that has not been linked to the deadly Lassa viral disease.
Oke said that the patient was duly attended to and now in stable condition and receiving treatment at the medical emergency ward of the hospital.
He added that the facility was ready to attended to all illnesses, included suspected case of Lassa, but "as we speak, there is no case of Lassa in Lagos State or LASUTH."
"Our emergency department are equally open and available to receive all patients to stabilise suspected case and managed according to the protocol of Lagos State Ministry of Health for suspected Lassa fever cases," Oke said.