The government, which said measures had been put in place to curtail further spread and reduce mortality among those affected, however, ruled out placing travel restrictions from and to areas currently affected.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who stated this in a statement he issued on Wednesday in Abuja, in response to the outbreak of Lassa Fever in the country, added that “the World Health Organisation is being notified of the cases confirmed.”
According to him, Nigeria has been experiencing Lassa fever outbreak in the past six weeks in Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo and Oyo states.
“The Nigerian government will continue to enhance its surveillance and social health education, information and communication activities to prevent the disease from spreading further in Nigeria and I wish to call for the support and understanding of Nigerians, “ the minister said.
He added, “The total number of suspected cases so far reported is 76 with 35 deaths, and a Case Fatality Rate of 46 per cent. Our laboratories have confirmed 14 cases, indicative of a new episode of Lassa fever outbreak.”
The first case of the current outbreak was reported from Bauchi State in November 2015, followed by cases reported by Kano State and subsequently the other six states.
Adewole added that in response to the reported outbreak, the Federal Government had taken some drastic measures to curtail further spread and reduce mortality.
The measures, he said, included immediate release of adequate quantities of ribavirin, the specific antiviral drug for Lassa Fever to all the affected states for prompt and adequate treatment of cases; and deployment of rapid response teams from the Federal Health Ministry to all the affected states to assist in investigating and verifying the cases and tracing of contacts.
The minister also said clinicians and relevant healthcare workers had been sensitised and mobilised in areas of patient management and care in the affected states, while
“affected states have been advised to intensify awareness creation on the signs and symptoms and general hygiene.”
“Furthermore, it is important to note that Nigeria has the capability to diagnose Lassa Fever and all the cases reported so far were confirmed by our laboratories. However, because the symptoms of Lassa Fever are so varied and non-specific, clinical diagnosis is often difficult, especially early in the course of the disease,” Adewole stressed.
The minister added that in view of the steps so far taken, he had directed that all health facilities in the country should emphasise routine infection prevention and control measures and ensure all patients were treated free.
He said, “Family members and healthcare workers are advised to always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons. No travel restrictions will be imposed from and to areas currently affected.
“Healthcare workers seeing a patient suspected to have Lassa Fever should immediately contact the epidemiologist in the State Ministry of Health or call the Federal Ministry of Health using the following numbers: 08093810105,08163215251, 08031571667 and 08135050005.
While expressing gratitude to the WHO and other partners for their support so far, Adewole said the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control “is already coordinating all our response activities and reporting to me on a daily basis.”
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 six to 21 days.
About 80 per cent of human infections are asymptomatic, the remaining cases have severe multi-system disease, where the virus affects several organs in the body, such as the liver, spleen and kidneys.
The onset of the disease is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, and malaise followed by headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, and bleeding from mouth, nose, vagina or gastro-intestinal tract, and low blood pressure.
The reservoir or host of the Lassa virus is the “multi-mammate rat” called Mastomys natalensis which has many breasts and lives in the bush and peri-residential areas.