After more than 100 deaths and almost 400 confirmed infections, Nigeria in April recorded a sharp decline in the spread of Lassa fever.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the lowest number of cases in a single week since the beginning of the outbreak was recorded this month.
“Only five new confirmed cases of Lassa fever were reported in the week that ended on the 15th of April 2018,” the NCDC said in its situation report released Thursday.
The report stated that it is also the eighth week of continuous decline in new confirmed cases, showing that the efforts to control the outbreak are bearing fruit.
This year’s epidemic is Nigeria’s largest on record, with confirmed cases in January and February alone exceeding the total number reported in the whole of 2017.
The rate at which the disease was spreading became worrisome to the government, health workers and citizens, prompting a joint effort from the World Health Organisation, Nigeria’s Ministry of Health and the NCDC to stem the tide.
The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, expressed delight at the report of the decline but warned that the epidemic is far from contained.
“I am happy with the reduction in the number of cases, thanks to the efforts that we have all devoted to this. However, now is not a time to rest on our oars. We will continue to intensify efforts to prevent, detect and respond to Lassa fever and ensure that Nigeria plays a leading role in the global efforts to tackle this disease”, the minister was quoted as saying in the report.”
The NCDC also warned in the report signed by its Chief Executive Officer, Chikwe Ihekweazu, that despite the reduction in cases, the period of highest risk of Lassa fever has not passed.
It also reiterated that prevention of the fever is everyone’s responsibility.
“Prevention relies primarily on promoting good community hygiene to discourage rodents from entering homes. Other effective measures include storing grains and other foodstuff in rodent-proof containers, proper disposal of garbage far from the home, and maintaining clean households.
“All foods must be cooked thoroughly, and family members should always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons. When symptoms similar to Malaria are noticed, visit the nearest health facility and insist on a rapid diagnostic test from the healthcare workers.”
The health body also urged health workers to continue maintaining a high index of suspicion for Lassa fever when handling patients, irrespective of their health status.
“Lassa fever should be considered in patients with fever, headache and malaise, in whom malaria has been ruled out with a rapid diagnostic test (RDT), especially when patients are not getting better. Health workers should adhere to standard precautions including wearing protective apparels when handling suspected Lassa fever patients,” the report noted.
The first Lassa fever case this year was confirmed in Ebonyi State when four people including three health workers died from the infection.
Health workers are most times secondary victims who get infected while treating patients with the disease.
Between 2005 and 2018, the infection claimed over 40 health workers in Ebonyi according to the state chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
The illness was first discovered in Nigeria when two missionary nurses succumbed to the virus in 1969. Its name is derived from the village of Lassa in Borno State where it was first documented.
The disease is endemic to a number of West African countries. There are estimated 100,000 to 300,000 cases of Lassa fever per year and approximately 5,000 deaths due to the disease.