The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has reported 68 additional Lassa fever infections and 15 deaths in the 6th week of 2023, spanning 6 to 12 February.
The NCDC in its latest situation report published Monday on its website revealed that the new cases bring the total number of confirmed cases and deaths recorded in 2023 to 531 and 85 respectively.
It noted that the number of new confirmed cases decreased from 106 in week five of 2023 to 68 cases, which were reported from Ondo, Edo, Bauchi, Taraba, Ebonyi, Gombe, Benue, Nasarawa, and Plateau states.
Cumulatively, NCDC noted that from week one to week six, 2023, the total deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 16 per cent which is lower than the CFR for the same period in 2022 (16.5 per cent).
It added that in total for 2023, 20 states have recorded at least one confirmed case across 79 Local Government Areas, with the trio of Ondo, Edo and Bauchi States topping the chart with 74 per cent.
Ondo State reported 36 per cent, while Edo and Bauchi accounted for 31 and seven per cent respectively.
NCDC noted that four new healthcare workers were infected in the reporting week six, adding that the number of suspected cases has increased compared to that reported for the same period in 2022.
Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic (excessive bleeding) illness that is transmitted to humans through contact with food or household items contaminated by infected rodents or contaminated persons.
Its symptoms include fever, headache, sore throat, general body weakness, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pains, chest pain, and in severe cases, unexplainable bleeding from ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and other body openings.
“Of the 74 percent confirmed cases, Ondo reported 36 percent, Edo 31 percent and Bauchi seven per cent. Cumulatively from week one to week six, 2023, 85 deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 16.0 percent which is lower than the CFR for the same period in 2022 (16.5 percent). “In total for 2023, 20 States have recorded at least one confirmed case across 79 LGAs,” the report stated.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, 85 deaths in just six weeks are alarming and calls for urgent action from the government, health officials, and the public to stop the spread of the disease and prevent further loss of life.
It is instructive to note that Lassa Fever is a viral hemorrhagic fever that is transmitted to humans through contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or feces. It can also be transmitted from person to person through bodily fluids, such as blood or semen.
The symptoms of Lassa Fever are similar to those of flu, including fever, headache, muscle weakness, and vomiting, and can progress to more severe symptoms, such as hemorrhaging and organ failure.
Regrettably, in our view, Nigeria is one of the countries most affected by Lassa Fever, with an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 cases and 5,000 deaths each year. The disease is endemic in many parts of the country, particularly in rural areas where access to healthcare is limited and, in some cases, non-existent.
On a positive note, the federal government and health officials have already taken steps to control the outbreak, including the deployment of healthcare workers to affected areas, the establishment of isolation centers, and the distribution of personal protective equipment.
However, in our opinion, more needs to be done to stop the spread of the disease and prevent further loss of life. One of the main challenges in controlling Lassa Fever is the lack of awareness and knowledge about the disease among the general public. Many people in Nigeria are unaware of the risks associated with the disease and do not know how to protect themselves and their families from infection.
The federal government and health officials need to do more to educate the public about the disease, its symptoms, and how to prevent infection.
Another challenge is the limited capacity of the healthcare system to detect and respond to outbreaks. Many health facilities in Nigeria lack the resources and training needed to identify and treat Lassa Fever cases, which can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
The government needs to invest more in the healthcare system, including improving the infrastructure and training of healthcare workers to ensure that outbreaks can be detected and responded to quickly.
Consequently, there is a need for greater international cooperation and support to address the Lassa Fever outbreak in Nigeria. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organizations have already provided technical and financial support to the government and health officials, but more needs to be done. The international community should work together to share knowledge and resources, and to develop effective strategies for controlling the disease.
Furthermore, we make bold to say that the recent outbreak of Lassa Fever in Nigeria is a reminder of the ongoing threat posed by infectious diseases and the need for greater investment in public health. The government, health officials, and the public must work together to stop the spread of the disease and prevent further loss of life.
This requires greater awareness and education about the disease, improved capacity of the healthcare system to detect and respond to outbreaks, and greater international cooperation and support. Only by working together can we hope to prevent future outbreaks of Lassa Fever and other infectious diseases in Nigeria.