Nigeria has reported an increase in Lassa fever infections, with 39 new cases and two deaths confirmed in just one week. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has released its latest situation report, indicating that from week 1 to week 12 of 2023, 144 deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 17.5 percentage, which is lower than the CFR for the same period in 2022 (18.6 percentage).
The report shows that the number of new confirmed cases increased from 38 in week 11, 2023, to 39 cases, while the fatalities decreased from 14 to two. The NCDC noted that the number of suspected cases increased compared to that reported for the same period in 2022, adding that three new healthcare workers were affected in the reporting week.
Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness caused by the Lassa virus, which is transmitted to humans through contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or feces. The disease is endemic in West Africa and has been responsible for several outbreaks in Nigeria over the past few decades.
The symptoms of Lassa fever include fever, headache, sore throat, general body weakness, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pains, chest pain, and in severe cases, unexplainable bleeding from ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and other body openings. The disease can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages because the symptoms are similar to those of other diseases, such as malaria and typhoid fever.
The NCDC report highlights that 24 states have recorded at least one confirmed case of Lassa fever, with 72 percent of all confirmed cases reported from three states of, which are Ondo, Edo, and Bauchi. Of these states, Ondo reported 32 percent, while Edo and Bauchi recorded 29 and 11 percent, respectively. According to the NCDC, the challenges with response to Lassa fever in the country include late presentation of cases leading to an increase in CFR, poor health-seeking behavior due to the high cost of treatment and clinical management of the infection, poor environmental sanitation conditions, and poor awareness observed in high-burden communities.
In light of these challenges, it is important for individuals and communities to be vigilant about the symptoms of Lassa fever and seek medical attention immediately if they suspect they have been infected. Furthermore, authorities and healthcare providers should work together to improve awareness and early detection, enhance environmental sanitation, and reduce the cost of treatment for those affected by the disease.
Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Director-General of the NCDC, emphasized that “We must remain vigilant and proactive in our response to Lassa fever to reduce its impact on the health and well-being of Nigerians.” The NCDC has been working with state governments and partners to strengthen surveillance, laboratory diagnosis, case management, and infection prevention and control measures to control the spread of Lassa fever in Nigeria.
In addition to improving awareness and early detection, there is a need to develop effective treatments and vaccines for Lassa fever. Several experimental treatments and vaccines are currently under development, but more research is needed to determine their safety and efficacy. The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed Lassa fever as a priority disease for research and development, highlighting the urgent need to accelerate efforts to combat this deadly disease.
The increase in Lassa fever infections in Nigeria is a cause for concern, and it is crucial for authorities and healthcare providers to take action to control the spread of the disease. Individuals can also play a role by being aware of the symptoms of Lassa fever and seeking medical attention promptly if they suspect they have been infected.