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Lassa Fever Kills Two in Lagos

Two persons, including a 36-year-old pregnant woman, have died at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, after being treated for Lassa fever.
Also, not less than 100 different hospital workers, who were exposed to the index case, including a resident doctor from the Department of Anatomic and Molecular Pathology are currently under close observation in LUTH, THISDAY investigations have shown.
The resident doctor was said to have taken part in the autopsy of the late pregnant woman. He is currently at the surveillance unit of the hospital, where he is being treated.

The Chief Medical Director, LUTH, Prof. Chris Bode, told THISDAY that the two patients died within a few days of admission as they presented late to the hospital in spite of efforts of the health workers to save their lives, adding that the late pregnant woman’s post-mortem examination was conducted before her Lassa fever status was eventually suspected and confirmed.

“The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Nigeria has also been contacted. Two other suspected cases from Lagos State are also currently admitted and quarantined while undergoing confirmatory laboratory test. The top management team of the hospital and I today visited the doctor and staff to boost morale and assure them of the hospital’s full support,” he said.
He enjoined all LUTH workers to maintain a high level of alert in the wake of the new outbreak and observe universal precautions in handling all suspected cases of the viral haemorrhagic fever.

Bode said: “LUTH has always worked closely with officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Health in handling a number of diseases of public importance such as rabies, cholera, Lassa fever and the recent diarrhoea disease at the Queen’s College.
“Both the Lagos State Ministry of Health and the Federal Ministry of Health have responded swiftly to contain this present Lassa fever outbreak by mobilising human and material resources to trace the sources and extent of the disease, follow up on potential contacts and identify early and test suspected cases.

“There are adequate materials for containment of the disease, while drugs have been made available to treat anyone confirmed with the disease. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Nigeria has also been contacted. Two other suspected cases from Lagos state are also currently admitted and quarantined while undergoing confirmatory laboratory tests,” he stated.
When THISDAY contacted the Special Adviser to the Lagos Governor on Primary Health Care, Dr. Femi Onanuga, he said the state was aware of the recent outbreak and was taking precautionary measures to contain it.

“The Ministry of Information has started an enlightenment campaign to educate Lagosians on its prevention and prompt reporting of cases. Lagos has had a worse case of Lassa fever and we came out of it. People should go about their normal business, as there is no need for panic,” he said.

According to Bode, it is important Nigerians are aware of the febrile illness, its mode of transmission, prevention, as well as treatment.
He explained: “Lassa fever is an acute febrile illness, with bleeding and death in severe cases, caused by the Lassa fever virus with an incubation period of 6-21 days. The virus, a member of the virus family Arenaviridae, is zoonotic, or animal-borne.

“About 80 per cent of human infections are without symptoms; the remaining cases have severe multiple organ diseases, where the virus affects several organs in the body, such as the liver, spleen and kidneys. Lassa fever is a significant cause of severe illness and death.”

He said the fever was an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus, first identified in 1969 in Nigeria, adding that it was endemic in Benin, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, with peaks in incidence closely related to seasonal patterns.
Bode explained further: “However, because the rat species, which carry the virus are found throughout West Africa, the actual geographic range of the disease may extend to other countries in the region.”

He said that it occurred in all age groups and both sexes.
“Persons at greatest risk are those living in rural areas where Mastomys are usually found, especially in communities with poor sanitation or crowded living conditions. Health workers are at risk if Lassa fever is not suspected or while caring for Lassa fever patients in the absence of proper barrier nursing and infection control practices,” he said.
While stating that its laboratory test could be done in LUTH, he said persons with information on suspected cases of the fever should notify the hospital’s response team on 08058019466, 08058744780, 07035521015 and 08023299445.

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