The World Health Organisation (WHO) is scaling up its response to an outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria, which has spread to 17 states and may have infected up to 450 people in less than five weeks.

 

 

From the onset of the outbreak, WHO Nigeria deployed staff from the national and state levels to support the Government of Nigeria’s national Lassa fever Emergency Operations Centre and state surveillance activities. WHO is helping to coordinate health actors and is joining rapid risk assessment teams travelling to hot spots to investigate the outbreak.

 

 

Between 1 January and 4 February 2018, nearly 450 suspected cases were reported, of which 132 are laboratory confirmed Lassa fever. Of these, 43 deaths were reported, 37 of which were lab confirmed. The acute viral haemorrhagic fever is endemic in Nigeria but for the current outbreak the hot spots are the southern states of Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi.

 

 

“The high number of Lassa fever cases is concerning. We are observing an unusually high number of cases for this time of year.” said Dr. Wondimagegnehu Alemu, WHO Representative to Nigeria.

 

 

Among those infected are 11 health workers, four of whom have died. WHO is advising national authorities on strengthening infection, prevention and control practices in healthcare settings. Healthcare workers caring for Lassa fever patients require extra infection and control measures, including the use of personal protective equipment to prevent contact with patients’ bodily fluids.

 

 

With the increase in the number of cases, WHO initially donated personal protective equipment to the Nigeria Center for Disease Control and to the affected states and procured laboratory reagents to support the prompt diagnosis of Lassa fever. WHO is deploying international experts to coordinate the response, strengthen surveillance, provide treatment guidelines, and engage with communities to raise awareness on prevention and treatment.

 

 

Lassa fever is endemic to several West African countries. Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone have all reported cases in the past month. WHO is working with countries in the region to strengthen coordination and cross-border cooperation.

 

 

Meanwhile, Osun State has debunked claims that the fever has spread to the state in an epidemic proportion. Commissioner for Information & Strategy, Mr. Adelani Baderinwa, in a statement, said, “The state government of Osun wishes to inform the general public that there is no outbreak of Lassa fever in any part of the state. There has not been any report on the spread of the disease by our medical personnel who are observing patients in hospitals.

“There is no reason for anybody to panic on the report of a suspected Lassa fever case in the state. What was reported is an isolated death case of a young man who came from a neighbouring state. The young man who was suspected of carrying Lassa fever disease from a neighbouring state died at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex, Ile-Ife.
“As a proactive measure, the medical personnel had to quarantine those who had contact with the strayed deceased for observation. This is a normal medical procedure, and does not mean the quarantined people are possibly carrying lassa fever disease. As at today, there has not been any other confirmed Lassa fever case except that of the young man from a neighbouring state that died at the OAUTHC.
“All necessary steps to prevent the outbreak of this disease or any other one in Osun had been pro actively taken. Filth and dirt’s are been regularly taken care of, while medical personnel had been on red alert to ensure any unexpected disease outbreak is contained.
As far as prevention is concerned, Osun government has been proactive while all curative efforts are already set in place.
“We urge people to make sure that their environment is clean and keep their foodstuffs away from rodents. Once again, the government urges the people not to panic, as there is no spread of Lassa fever in the state.”
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