The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says that there is no vaccine that is clinically proven to be effective in the prevention of Lassa fever at the moment.
Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Chief Executive Officer of NCDC told newsmen on Tuesday in Abuja that the only medical tool available to combat the disease for now was called Ribavrin.
According to Ihekweazu, Ribavrin is a medicine if given early to patients who are infected with Lassa will protect, prevent death as well as further spread.
He noted that early detection was key in saving affected patients with Lassa virus and protecting others. “Unlike Ebola, the good thing with Lassa is that there is a treatment available but the treatment has to be given early.
“For instance, if you keep treating malaria for three weeks before testing and discovering it is Lassa, and you administer Ribavrin at the fourth week then it is unlikely that you will succeed.
“But if Lassa is detected early and treatment commences at once, the patient will be saved and it will also help prevent transmission to others,’’ he said.
Ihekweazu pointed out that Ribavrin as a drug could be administered in drug form to treat contacts.
“If you have a known case of Lassa and the patient has had contacts, we give Ribavrin to the contacts to prevent them from getting it but sadly there is no vaccine yet.
“We have Ribavrin available in the FCT and we are currently deploying and repositioning it in all the state capitals in Nigeria “So that the states can have access to the drugs when they need it and we will only supply it in emergency cases when they run out,” he said.
The NCDC boss explained that Lassa was endemic in the country, adding that there would always be cases of Lassa fever until “we are able to prevent it’’.
He emphasised the need for people to report suspected cases of Lassa fever to enable NCDC to respond swiftly.
He said that the primary responsibility for response lie with the state government, noting that the centre’s role was to support the states.
“There are circumstances where there is a bigger outbreak, that is when we actually go physically to the states to support them, but we can’t do that for all the states at all times.
“Recently, we supported cases in Delta and Plateau state by going there ourselves and sending a team to support them physically at the state level.
“For Ondo state, we did a risk assessment and we found out that they are capable of doing this themselvesm and they have been on top of it, so we give them support from Abuja.
“We have done assessments in the states in terms of their capacity to respond because they are the closest to the patients, we are supporting the states and they are doing the following.
“Awareness programmes is one of the methods some of the states are using to prevent Lassa virus, they run advertisements on radio, television and do some community education programmes.
“People think about Lassa in terms of bleeding but that happens at a very late stage, as most patients will have the normal features of fever and malaria,’’ he said.