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Updated On: Monday, 24 September 2018

WHO Combats Lassa Fever in Nigeria

Content by: South-South News

13 March 2018, New York, USA | South-South News — The World Health Organization (WHO) said Nigeria’s Lassa fever outbreak has spread to 18 states and affected more people so far than in the whole of 2017.

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the outbreak has led to 353 laboratory confirmed cases and 78 deaths since 1 January 2018. In comparison, 312 confirmed cases were reported in 2017.

Health facilities are particularly overstretched in the southern states of Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi – where authorities are mobilizing doctors and nurses to work in Lassa fever treatment centers.

At the Institute of Lassa Fever Control in Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, the World Health Organization is working with NCDC and health partners to rapidly expand treatment facilities and better equip them to provide patient care while reducing the risks to staff. The institute is located in Edo state where most of the confirmed cases have occurred.

While the Irrua institute has not had any Lassa fever infections among its staff, 16 healthcare workers in Nigeria have become infected and four have died. The hospital follows a protocol to prevent transmission from patients to staff.

Health workers are being trained in infection, prevention and control measures, such as the importance of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and isolating patients during treatment. WHO has already provided an initial supply of PPE and other related materials.

The Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital’s isolation ward has beds for 24 Lassa fever patients, but the hospital often admits nearly double that number of people. The hospital has had to create new wards in a building which is still under construction.

Professor Sylvanus Okogbenin, the Chief Medical Director at the Teaching Hospital said, “In our isolation ward we usually take in a maximum of 24 patients but sometimes we get as many as 45 patients. We have had to put new wards in some of our not completed buildings and put in more beds.”

Isolation tents recently set up by the Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) are being equipped to treat more patients.

WHO, NCDC and partners are also working together to improve laboratory capacity in Nigeria. WHO has procured and shipped laboratory re-agents to support diagnosis of Lassa fever. Three laboratories in Nigeria are currently capable of testing for Lassa virus infections.

WHO has also sent staff to support the hospital. Kevin Ousman is an expert in Infection Prevention Control and is working with the clinic to improve some processes. Today he is training nurse Patience Osobase

Nurse Patience Osobase said “the health workers need more training. Mostly for the domestic staff that dispose of the waste. They need training so that they know what they are dealing with. So they don’t go and infect their own communities and their families.”

NCDC is leading the response to the Lassa fever outbreak in collaboration with State Ministries of Health and Local Government Health departments.

WHO is supporting the response with a focus on strengthening coordination through the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), surveillance, laboratory testing, clinical management of patients, and community engagement.

According the WHO, Lassa fever is a zoonotic disease, meaning that humans become infected from contact with infected animals. The animal reservoir, or host, of Lassa virus is a rodent of the genus Mastomys, commonly known as the “multimammate rat.” Mastomys rats infected with Lassa virus do not become ill, but they can shed the virus in their urine and feces.

Because the clinical course of the disease is so variable, detection of the disease in affected patients has been difficult. When presence of the disease is confirmed in a community, however, prompt isolation of affected patients, good infection prevention and control practices, and rigorous contact tracing can stop outbreaks.

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