As the Rivers State Ministry of Health is struggling to eradicate the dreaded killer illness, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), cancer and polio in the state, another high, fast-killing illness known as Lassa fever has reared its head from the blues, threatening the lives of residents of Rivers State.
Information made available to our news desk confirmed that six lives have already been claimed in the state, including a serving nurse in the state-owned Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMSH).
In a leaflet made available to our reporter by the Rivers State ministry of Health, lassa fever is an acute viral illness that was discovered in 1969 when two missionary nurses died in Nigeria. The cause of the illness was found to be Lassa virus, named after the town in Nigeria where the first case originated. The Lassa virus is said to be found in a rat, (mastomys rodents), known as the “multimammate rat”. This very specie of rat is having eight breasts all over his abdomen.
The information further revealed the virus may be transmitted to human beings in numerous ways. According to medical doctors findings, the rat sheds the virus in urine and droppings. The virus is transmitted through direct contact when eating food contaminated with the rat’s faeces and urine or cut and sores, when they have contact with human beings.
The illness is also contacted by air through inhaling tiny particles contaminated with the rat’s excretions. The rat often lives in and around homes and scavenges on carelessly kept human food, poorly stored.
The ministry of Health has warned those who make rats part of their meals to desist from it.
The main signs and symptoms include, fever, retrosternal pain (pain behind the chest wall), sore throat, back pain, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, conjunctivitis (red eyes), facial swelling, and mucosal bleeding.
The Rivers State Ministry of Health therefore urged all residents of Rivers State to prevent the illness by keeping to cleanliness in their homes and environment.
Doctor Sampson Parker, the Rivers State Commissioner for Health has also advised residents of the state to prevent Lassa virus by avoiding contact with rats (mastomys rodents) especially where rats are thickly populated, stressing that all food items should be put in rat-proof containers, the surrounding should be kept clean and rats prevented from entering homes. Rat traps should also be used around homes.
Other possible ways to keep the illness away from homes are, when caring for the patients with lassa fever, apply isolation, precaution method, eg. wearing of mask, gloves, gowns and goggles, use of infection control measures, and sterilization.
Facts about Lassa Virus:
In what animal host is Lassa virus maintained?
The host is a rodent known as the “multimammate rat” of the genus Mastomys. This specie has a hairless tail. The rodents breed very frequently, produce large numbers of offspring. In addition, Mastomys readily colonize human homes and contribute to the relatively efficient spread of Lassa virus from infected rodents to humans.
How do humans get Lassa fever?
The Mastomys rodents shed the virus in urine and droppings. Therefore, the virus can be transmitted through direct contact with these materials, through touching objects or eating food contaminated with these materials particularly drinking or eating from unwashed canned food or bottles. It can also be through cuts or sores. A person can inhale tiny particles in the air contaminated with rodent excretions. This is called aerosol or airborne transmission.
Lassa fever may also spread through person-to-person contact. This is when a person comes into contact with virus in the blood, tissue, secretions, or excretions of an individual infected with the Lassa virus.
The virus also may be spread in hospitals among health care providers and patients. The mortality rate is usually high where there are poor infection control practices.
What are the symptoms of Lassa fever?
Symptoms of Lassa fever are so varied and nonspecific but there is usually fever within the first three weeks after contact with the virus. Other symptoms include chest back pain, sore throat, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, facial swelling, mucosal bleeding from the nose, ear and throat neurological problems including hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis.
How is the disease diagnosed in the laboratory?
Lassa fever is most often diagnosed by using enzyme-linked immunosorbent serologic assays (ELISA), which detect 1gM and lgG antibodies as well as Lassa antigen. This we cannot do in Shell clinics
Are there complications after recovery?
The most common complication of Lassa fever is deafness. Various degrees of deafness occur in approximately one-third of cases, and in many cases hearing loss is permanent. The death rates are particularly high for women in the third trimester of pregnancy, and for fetuses, about 95% of which die in the uterus of infected pregnant mothers.
How is Lassa fever treated?
Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, has been used with success in Lassa fever patients. It has been shown to be most effective when given early in the course of the illness.
How is Lassa fever prevented?
Vaccination is the most viable control measure but there is no correlation between antibody levels and outcome in human patients, and inactivated vaccines produce high titers of antibodies to all viral proteins but do not prevent virus replication and death in nonhuman primates. Therefore the value of vaccination against Lassa has not been established and documented.
Putting food away in rodent-proof containers and keeping the home clean help to discourage rodents from entering homes. Using these rodents as a food source is not recommended. Trapping in and around homes can help reduce rodent populations. However, the wide distribution of Mastomys in Africa makes complete control of this rodent reservoir impractical.
When caring for patients with Lassa fever, further transmission of the disease through person-to-person contact can be avoided by taking preventive precautions against contact with patient secretions. Such precautions include wearing protective clothing, such as masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles; using infection control measures, such as complete equipment sterilization; and isolating infected patients from contact with unprotected persons until the disease has run its course. The use of household bleach is highly recommended for mopping the floors and cleaning of equipments and also horizontal surfaces.
There is no machine now to carry out the lassa fever test, say the commissioner for Health and that it is now carried out in Edo state.
However, efforts are being made by the permanent of Rivers State to import the relevant machine. ###
Allanso Jonathan Allanso