Lassa Fever: Things to Know About the Disease…

lassa

Lassa Fever is around again, and it spreading slowly in some few states in Nigeria. Already two people have been reported dead from the fever in one state in the country, while several people have been quarantine.

Humans infect other humans through direct contact with infected body fluids: urine, blood, sputum. Infected humans must be isolated to avoid human to human transmission. Close contacts of infected individuals and health workers who do not observe standard infection control practices are at increased risk of being infected.

Treatment

Chance of cure with an antiviral agent called Ribavirin when started within the first week of the illness. Ribavirin should be avoided in pregnant women because of the risk to the foetus.

Supportive care with intravenous fluids, blood transfusion and medications for seizures as might be required.

Prevention

Primary prevention involves avoidance of contact with rats. This tends to be heightened following bush burning. The rats are displaced from their natural habitat so they come close to homes in search of alternative abode.

– Bushes and clutter around the house must be cleared to make the surrounding unattractive to rats

– Food, cooking utensils and drinking water must be kept in rat proof containers

– Avoid using rats as food sources

To avoid human to human transmission:

– close contacts of individuals with illness involving fever that does not respond to treatment for malaria should wear gloves to touch body fluids

– health workers must wear gloves, protective gowns and masks while caring for individuals suspected of Lassa fever

 – hospitalised suspected cases must be isolated and contact with staff of the hospital minimised: individualised equipment must be provided for such patients.

Separate thermometers, blood pressure apparati, bath utensils etc must be provided.

– specific team of health workers must be identified to care for suspected cases who must be nursed in isolation.

A high index of suspicion is required on the part of health workers for early detection and chance of curative treatment.

By Dr Ogugua Osi-Ogbu, the chief consultant physician and coordinator for Lassa Fever infection control at National Hospital, Abuja, Nigeria

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