13 February 2018

Liberia: Lassa Fever Outbreak in Nigeria Sparks Local Health Concerns

In the wake of the reported outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria, health authorities in Liberia say they are prepared and capable of defeating any outbreak, adding that: "As part of our prepared measures, we have assigned disease surveillance officers at each of our entry points."

Sorbor George, the communications director of the Ministry of Health, told the Daily Observer via mobile phone last night that although the ministry was not aware of the alert Nigeria had issued to that effect, nonetheless Liberia's health authorities have learned enough lessons from Ebola, and are therefore prepared to deal with any eventuality in the sector.

"We will speak to the issue as soon as we can get the details from our Nigerian or Ghanaian counterparts, though we are clinically and laboratory-wise prepared," George assured.

WHO Report

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) website, the WHO was notified of at least 38 suspected cases of Lassa fever in Liberia between January 1 and April 3, 2016.

Suspected cases were reported from six prefectures, including Bong (17 cases, with nine deaths), Nimba (14 cases, six deaths), Gbarpolu (four cases), Lofa (one case), Margibi (one case), and Montserrado (one case).

Between January 1 and April 3, 2016, samples from 24 suspected cases were received for laboratory testing. Of these 24 suspected cases reported to have tested positive for the disease, two were identified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR); two through the detection of IgM antibodies using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA); and another two cases were identified through the detection of Lassa virus antigens using ELISA.

Information on the type of testing employed to identify the seventh case is not currently available.

All the Lassa fever confirmed cases tested negative for the Ebola virus disease. Since there were no designated laboratories in the country at the time that could test samples for Lassa fever by PCR, specimens were sent for testing to Kenema, Sierra Leone.

Nigeria outbreak

It was reported on February 11, 2018 that following the death of 31 people in Nigeria's recent Lassa fever outbreak, the Ghana Health Service (GHS) issued an alert to all Regional Directors of Health Services and Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of teaching hospitals on the disease, that country's Citi 97.3 FM (Citifmonline) has reported.

According to the report, the alert urged the various health institutions to enhance surveillance for Lassa and acute hemorrhagic (bleeding) fevers in general. This alert follows the outbreak of the fever in Nigeria, which has claimed 31 lives.

"Nigeria's Ministry of Health has confirmed and subsequently declared Lassa fever outbreak, which has affected about 18 states with over 300 cases and 31 deaths.

"The outbreak has been ongoing for the past six weeks and has necessitated urgent spontaneous national response actions among all neighboring countries. Lassa fever outbreaks have been recurrent in Nigeria, and the current outbreak has affected health workers in some states," the alert stated.

Among other recommendations, the country's health service noted that suspected cases must be treated in isolation and advised health workers to adhere to regular Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures to prevent and protect against possible transmission.

General information on Lassa fever

Lassa fever is an Acute Viral Hemorrhagic Fever that is endemic in West Africa. The incubation period is 6-21 days. The onset of the fever has non-specific signs and symptoms, but fever, general weakness, and malaise have been noted in its early stages. This is followed by headaches, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pains.

Severe cases may progress to show facial swelling, and bleeding. Shock, seizures, disorientation, and coma may be seen in the late stages. About 80 percent of Lassa fever infections are mild or asymptomatic.

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