In November 2015, Nigeria experienced its first outbreak of Lassa fever in Bauchi state just as the country was just coming out of dealing with Ebola.
The Ebola crisis had shown a very responsive Nigerian government, as well as a concerted effort by the international community to immediately deal with the outbreak – a $100 million emergency fund was set up by the WHO. Some people attributed the fast response to the fact that the outbreak occurred in the metropolitan city of Lagos.
However, it seems that the same efforts to deal with Ebola by Nigeria is not being implemented to handle Lassa fever and although a few successes have been recorded (as at September 2016, some states reported no new cases), there still seems no will to ensure that the disease does not become endemic in the country.
There are similarities between Lassa fever and Ebola even though they are explicitly different; it is less infectious and far less fatal. About 1 percent of Lassa patients die as compared with about 70 percent in the case of Ebola.
However in both cases, patients present with fever, nausea, diarrhoea and in severe cases bleeding from the eyes and ears, a complication that without immediate medical attention, leads to death.
Nigerians need to be on a yellow alert as a report published by the Technical Assistant of Communication, Dr. Lawal Bakare of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Monday 16 January, 2017, has warned on the increased number of Lassa fever cases even as it advised increased focus on prevention and preparedness.
According to the report, since the beginning of this current dry season in December 2016 recorded 19 cases and six deaths in seven states.
Ogun state reported two deaths; Taraba six cases with one death; Nasarawa two cases with no deaths; Edo one case with no death; Ondo a case with no death; Rivers one case and no death; and Plateau with six cases and three fatalities.
The latest series of events questions how far the country has come in its quest to identify cases of fast-spreading infectious disease and nip it in the bud.
First described in 1969, Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus; frequently infecting people in West Africa with 300,000 to 500,000 reported cases annually and the cause of about 5,000 deaths each year. The virus is probably transmitted by contact with the faeces or urine of animals accessing grain stores in residences.
Prevention of the disease relies on promoting good hygiene in communities to discourage rodents from entering homes. In caring for sick persons, family members are advised to be careful and avoid contact with blood and body fluids.