Lassa Fever has proven itself to be a silent killer with a record high of about 110 deaths between January and March 2018, a figure higher than the total number of affected persons in the entire 2017.
In order to prevent a spread of the disease, it has become necessary to be fully aware of what it is, the symptoms, as well as some preventive measures.
What is Lassa Fever?
The World Health Organisation describes Lassa fever as a zoonotic disease, meaning that humans become infected from contact with infected animals.
The animal reservoir, or host, of Lassa virus is a rodent of the genus Mastomys, commonly known as the “multimammate rat.” Mastomys rats infected with Lassa virus do not become ill, but they can shed the virus in their urine and faeces.
Though first described in the 1950s, the virus causing Lassa disease was not identified until 1969. The virus is a single-stranded RNA virus belonging to the virus family Arenaviridae.
Also according to the W.H.O, about 80% of people who become infected with Lassa virus have no symptoms but 1 in 5 infections result in severe disease, where the virus affects several organs such as the liver, spleen and kidneys.
Because the clinical course of the disease is so variable, detection in affected patients has been difficult.
However, key symptoms to watch out for include:
• Fever, general weakness, and malaise in the early stages.
•After a few days, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, and abdominal pain may follow.
•As the case gets more severe, there can visible facial swelling, fluid in the lung cavity, bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure may develop.
• Protein may be noticed in the urine.
• Also in the later stages, shock, seizures, tremor, disorientation, and coma.
• About 25% of patients who survive the disease, develop hearing disorders and in some cases, hearing returns partially after 1–3 months.
• Others include hair loss and gait disturbance.
• In severe cases, death may occur within 14 days of onset
How is it spread?
• Primarily through direct contact with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats.
• From person-to-person through contact with blood, urine, saliva, throat secretion or semen of an infected person.
• Touching of floors, beddings and household materials contaminated with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of rats or an infected person.
• Eating food or drinking water contaminated with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats.
Who’s At Risk?
• People of all age groups who come in contact with the urine, faeces, saliva or blood of rats.
• Anyone taking care of persons infected with the disease.
• Health workers providing direct patient care, without universal precautions.
• Hospital staff who clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces, materials and supplies.
• Laboratory staff who handle blood samples from suspected Lassa fever cases.
How To Protect Yourself?
- To prevent yourself from contacting the disease, it is highly necessary to maintain good household and community hygiene
- Store grains and other foodstuff in rodent-proof containers
- Dispose of garbage far from the home
- Regular fumigation to keep rodents away
- While it may appear trivial, it has also been advised to keep cats