A Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria that began in January is now the largest on record in the West African country, according to WHO.
The acute hemorrhagic fever outbreak had reached 317 laboratory-confirmed cases as of Feb. 28, and resulted in 72 deaths, the agency reported. According to WHO, one in five cases of Lassa fever results in severe disease, and the mortality rate generally ranges from 1% to 15%.
The outbreak has affected 18 of Nigeria’s 36 states, WHO announced. In all, 2,845 people have been in contact with patients affected by the outbreak, and they are being monitored, the agency added.
Lassa is endemic to West Africa and is generally transmitted to humans through food or other items contaminated with rodent waste.
“There may also be transmission in health care settings, either from patients to health care workers or patients to patients,” David Heyman, MD, a professor of epidemiology and population health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He added, however, that proper training and equipment should prevent that.
“Lassa doesn’t usually transmit in the community from person to person,” Heyman told Infectious Disease News. He explained that it could possibly be spread through improper handling of the bodies of those who die from the disease. “But I think Nigeria has been on top of that ... in making sure that those bodies are handled properly,” Heyman said.
WHO and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control are responding to the outbreak. In addition, individual state health authorities are sending doctors and nurses to treatment centers. Health officials are also conducting surveillance and contact tracing, along with laboratory testing and what WHO is calling community engagement.
“The ability to rapidly detect cases of infection in the community and refer them early for treatment improves patients’ chances of survival and is critical to this response,” Wondimagegnehu Alemu, WHO representative to Nigeria, said in a news release.
However, WHO also stresses that clinics in the southern states of Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi State are “particularly overstretched” in dealing with the outbreak. Authorities are working to expand treatment centers and better equip them.
WHO said 14 health care workers have been infected, and four have died.
“Given the large number of states affected, many people will seek treatment in health facilities that are not appropriately prepared to care for Lassa fever patients, and the risk of infection to health care workers is likely to increase,” Alemu said. – by Joe Green
WHO. Lassa Fever. 2018. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs179/en/
Disclosure: Heyman reports no relevant financial disclosures.