Abuja — The Federal Government has announced a decline in number of new cases of Lassa fever in the country.
Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, who disclosed this at a news conference in Abuja, said that the country had witnessed a reduction in the number of people who have died from the disease compared to 2018 adding that the NCDC and partners had continued to sustain response activities in states across the country, despite progress made so far.
He said, "An outbreak of Lassa fever was declared in Nigeria on Jan. 21, 2019. Since then, 420 confirmed cases and 93 deaths have been reported in 21 states.
The national, multi-sectoral, is coordinating the national response multi-partner Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) led by the NCDC. In addition, the centre has supported Ebonyi, Edo, Ondo, Plateau and Kebbi States in activating sub-national level EOCs for coordination."
Ihekeazu noted that following the large Lassa fever outbreak in 2018; the NCDC together with partners instituted five key measures to ensure improved preparedness in 2019.
According to him, NCDC developed new case management guidelines, initiated a Lassa fever Research Consortium and hosted an International Conference on Lassa fever to share knowledge adding that the Centre also supported full availability of drugs, personal protective equipment, laboratory reagents and other supplies required for case management and diagnosis of Lassa fever.
He observed this year, there has been no single stock-out reported in any state.
"In January 2019, NCDC hosted the first Lassa fever International Conference. This brought together the largest gathering of researchers and professionals to discuss progress on Lassa fever.
"Importantly, Nigeria introduced her national Lassa fever research plan and has been recognised as one of the leading stakeholders in global Lassa fever research.
"Over the last six months, progress has been made in this area especially in discussions around Lassa fever vaccines. In the next one year, Nigeria is expected to be part of clinical trials towards the development of Lassa fever vaccines," he said.
The CEO pointed out that the progress recorded in the response to the 2019 Lassa fever outbreak including an early decline in the number of new cases and reduced case fatality have been attributed to various factors.
"This includes the early deployment of One-Health national Rapid Response Teams (RRTs), improvement of functions in Lassa fever treatment centres, revision of case management guidelines, enforcement of environmental sanitation in some states.
"Introduction of the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) ring strategy, targeted intensified risk communications activities, high level advocacy visits, operational research into response activities, amongst others," Ihekweazu said.
He, however, stressed the need for Nigerians to continue to practice preventive measures to avoid infection.
He noted that prevention of Lassa fever relied on promoting good community hygiene to discourage rodents from entering homes.
NCDC boss listed some of the measures as training of over 1,000 healthcare workers on Lassa fever management, diagnosis and surveillance, together with the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Edo State.
He said that prepositioning of treatment and diagnostic supplies to the 21 states that recorded cases in 2018, treatment centres and laboratories.
Ihekeazu added that publication of Lassa fever messages on three major newspapers; weekly radio shows on Radio Nigeria and intensive community engagement were part of the improved preparedness.
"Other measures to improve preparedness are high-level advocacy visits to state governments, encouraging them to do more to prevent and respond to cases of Lassa fever.
The NCDC boss noted that in 2018, genetic sequencing carried out showed that the virus circulating originated from the pool of lineages that have been in Nigeria since the first discovery.
He said that this year, early sequencing result showed similar findings.
"The preliminary results of 42 Lassa fever virus sequences indicate that rodent to human transmission, as observed in 2018, is still the dominant route of transmission.
"Therefore, there is a strong need to improve prevention measures especially around environmental sanitation.
"All food should be well prepared, and family members should always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons.
"Healthcare workers are urged to maintain a high index of suspicion for Lassa fever when handling patients, irrespective of their health status.
"Lassa fever should be considered in patients with fever, headache, sore throat and malaise, in whom Malaria has been ruled out with a rapid diagnostic test (RDT), especially when patients are not getting better.
"Health workers should adhere to standard precautions including wearing protective apparels when handling suspected Lassa fever patients.
"The revised Lassa fever case management guidelines are available on the NCDC website, www.ncdc.gov.ng," the NCDC boss added.
Other measures include storing grains and other foodstuff in rodent-proof containers, proper disposal of garbage far from the home, maintaining clean households and frequent hand hygiene.
Lassa fever is a viral infection caused by the Lassa fever virus, primarily transmitted to humans through direct contact, eating food or drinking water contaminated with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats.
However person-to-person transmission is through contact with blood, urine, saliva, and throat secretion or semen of an infected person.
The disease can be treated with early presentation at a healthcare facility greatly increasing the chances of survival.
Early signs of the disease include sudden fever, sore throat and general body weakness.