There has being a lot going around recently about the new killer disease “Lassa fever” many have argued that it is the new “ebola” and should be treated with the same intensity, others have maintained that there is nothing to worry about while many have simply remained silent on the matter. But should you be worried? If this disease is just as terrible as Ebola what precautionary measures if any should you take to protect yourself? Here is all you need to know about Lassa fever.
Lassa fever was discovered in Lassa town in 1969 in Borno state Nigeria following the death of American nurses in Jos Evangel hospital and like Ebola it is a viral haemorrhagic fever which means it is caused by a virus and people with the disease have been noticed to bleed from the mouth and gut, however this is not a common occurence.
How is it transmitted?
For a very long time, many researches carried out led people to believe that Lassa fever virus was only transmitted by contact with the faeces or urines of an infected rat Mastomys natalensis, however a recent study carried out in 2016 has helped to understand that it can also be transmitted by other rodents which include; H. pamfi, and M. erythroleucus.
After one human is infected by it, this infected human can transmit the virus to other people in the early stages of the disease, this is often before signs of serious infection become apparent making it difficult to recognise, it can be transmitted by contact with body fluids from these infected individuals
Research has also shown that a pregnant woman with the virus can transmit this virus to the unborn child. This virus is especially common among people who hunt and eat rats which is a very common practice in West Africa bringing them in contact with the blood, urine, faeces and saliva of the infected rodents.
WHAT ARE SYMPTOMS TO LOOK OUT FOR
The symptoms of Lassa fever usually occur after 1- 3 weeks of exposure to the virus, the symptoms are usually nonspecific, it includes Headaches, weakness, vomiting and muscle pains most times malaria gets the blame for these symptoms. Bleeding from the mouth and gut is a distinguishing symptom but is uncommon.
It is very important to have a high index of suspicion especially during an epidemic like is currently seen in Nigeria. About 80% of Lassa fever virus infections symptoms are mild and are undiagnosed but death may occur within two weeks after symptom onset due to multiple organ failure. The risk of dying from the infection is 1 in a 100 and about a quarter of survivors have been noted to experience varying degrees of deafness which improves over time. It is often treated with the antiviral drug Ribavirin with substantial success
Although Lassa fever virus appears not to be as fatal as the Ebola virus, it is still deadly, during an epidemic, case fatality increases to as high as 50% and it is important to prevent the disease rather than try to cure it as this may be difficult. Preventive measures that may help you include proper storage of food and food stuffs especially Garri in a rodent free area, practice of good hygiene and environmental sanitation, as the virus can be destroyed by heat, proper cooking of food is also a good preventive measure. Most importantly don’t assume, please see your doctor for all fevers, it just may not be Malaria.