If you are concerned about drinking soaked garri and have fears you might catch Lassa fever, now you have to worry about every food, says the Institute of Human Virology of Nigeria (IHVN) but sustained heat can kill the virus behind the disease.
The common rat that transmits Lassa fever virus lives around houses and has the habit of contaminating food that is left open with its faeces and urine, which has the virus, according to Dr Alash'le G. Abimiku, virologist and co-founder of IHVN. "Therefore all forms of food contaminated with its urine and eaten without any processing with heat that kills the virus will transmit the virus. So it is not wise to single out garri. This could happen to any food that is left uncovered," she says. Days earlier, the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria began a campaign to stop consumption of soaked garri, pointing to its being an easy source of contamination and possible Lassa fever route, and suggesting instead the use of garri for eba. It said the heat it takes to make eba was a safeguard. Abimiki who is executive director for laboratory diagnostics and research at IHVN, agreed boiling water for a period of time would destroy the virus. "For just hot water to destroy the virus it must reach at least 56 0C for a period of time-30 minutes is recommended. Boiling water would kill the virus, period," she says. But it isn't just food: cooking pots, pans and other kitchen utensils are also vulnerable to infection. "Another source of infection is through contamination from infected foods or utensils/pans where one could touch infected sources and infect oneself by putting contaminated hands into ones mouth or any abrasions or cuts on the skin," explains Abimiku. "General hygiene is critical for controlling viral infection. It is unwise to single out one act and one food item and think that you are safe from being infected by Lassa virus."