Nigeria: Amid Covid-19 Onslaught, Nigerian Govt Activates 'Emergency Operations' to Curb Lassa Fever

Lassa fever public health advisory.
26 January 2022

The centre said between January 1 and 23, Nigeria recorded a total of 115 confirmed cases with 26 deaths

With the increasing cases of Lassa fever reported across the country, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has activated a National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate response activities.

Since the beginning of the year, Nigeria, which has battled the coronavirus pandemic, has also been experiencing a rapid increase in the number of Lassa fever cases and deaths.

Between January 1 and 23, 2022 a total of 115 confirmed cases were reported from 11 states across the country, leading to 26 deaths.

These cases, according to the disease centre, are spread across 30 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the 11 states.

Emergency centre

NCDC in a statement signed by its director-general, Ifedayo Adetifa, and published on Wednesday, said the centre will aid response to Lassa fever outbreak in some parts of the country.

Mr Adetifa said this was made necessary given the increase in the number of confirmed cases across the country and a joint risk assessment with partners and sister agencies.

He noted that the situation reports in weeks one and two show the highest number of confirmed cases recorded in the last four years for the same period.

Lassa Fever

Lassa fever is a severe viral hemorrhagic disease that was first reported in 1969 in an American missionary nurse who worked in Lassa town in Borno State of Nigeria.

It includes a spectrum of illnesses which could be mild, severe, or even fatal in some cases.

Nigeria has since 1969 recorded repeated outbreaks of the disease.

Lassa fever is transmitted from the excreta or urine of the multimammate rat.

Anyone who is suspected of being in contact with a Lassa patient needs to be presented to health facilities within a period of 21 days.

Early symptoms are fever, headache, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, sore throat, etc. In very severe cases, the patient bleeds from body openings.

Like several other countries in West Africa, the disease is endemic in Nigeria and is often recorded during the dry season, often between November and May.

Meanwhile, the NCDC said proper environmental sanitation could reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

Other measures according to the agency are "covering dustbins and disposing of refuse properly, storing foodstuff like rice, garri, beans, corn/maize, etc in containers that are well covered with tight-fitting lids, avoiding drying foodstuffs outside on the floor, avoid bush burning which can lead to the displacement of rats from bushes to human dwellings."

Response to outbreak

Mr Adetifa said there are currently seven laboratories that can conduct confirmatory tests for Lassa fever in Nigeria coordinated by NCDC National Reference Laboratory (NRL), which has improved active case detection for the disease.

He explained that care for affected individuals has improved with the infectious disease centre providing support to states.

He said this includes the provision of emergency medical and laboratory supplies as well as oral and intravenous Ribavirin for preventive and curative treatment to treatment centres across the country.

Mr Adetifa said the NCDC has continued to deploy Rapid Response Teams (RRT) as required to states to support and strengthen their response efforts.

He added: "The RRTs through the State Public Health Emergency Operation Centres (PHEOCs) works with states across all response pillars to strengthen preparedness and response activities.

"This includes outbreak investigation, contact tracing, response coordination, case management, psycho-social care for infected people, risk communication, and infection prevention and control activities."

He said the centre is also participating in the largest-ever Lassa fever study that aims to provide an accurate assessment of the incidence of the disease in West Africa, which also will accelerate the development of vaccines and therapeutics for the disease.

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