Nigeria has seen an “unusually high” number of Lassa fever cases during a weeks-old outbreak that has spread to 17 states, a WHO official said.
According to WHO, nearly 450 suspected cases were reported between Jan. 1 and Feb. 4, including 132 confirmed illnesses. Forty-three deaths have been reported, 37 of them confirmed, the agency said. The Nigeria CDC (NCDC) reported even higher numbers: 615 suspected cases and 57 deaths.
“The high number of Lassa fever cases is concerning. We are observing an unusually high number of cases for this time of year,” Wondimagegnehu Alemu, MD, MPH, WHO Representative to Nigeria, said in a statement.
Lassa fever is an acute viral illness that can be difficult to distinguish from Ebola and other hemorrhagic diseases. It is endemic in several West African countries, including Nigeria, which has reported several outbreaks over the past few years.
WHO said last week that it was scaling up its response to the current outbreak. The agency said it deployed staff from the national and state levels to support the Nigerian government’s emergency operations center and surveillance activities and joined investigative teams in the field.
According to the NCDC, 14 health care workers in six states have been affected. WHO reported four deaths among health care workers and said it has advised national authorities to strengthen infection, prevention and control practices in health care settings. The agency said it donated personal protective equipment and procured diagnostic testing reagents for the response.
“Health care workers caring for Lassa fever patients require extra infection and control measures, including the use of personal protective equipment to prevent contact with patients’ bodily fluids,” the agency said. “WHO is deploying international experts to coordinate the response, strengthen surveillance, provide treatment guidelines, and engage with communities to raise awareness on prevention and treatment.”
According to WHO, Lassa fever is usually transmitted to humans through contact with the urine or feces of infected rats. Person-to-person transmission occurs through direct contact with bodily fluids. In health care settings, Lassa virus may spread via contaminated medical equipment like reused needles, according to WHO.
Reference: WHO moves to contain Nigeria’s Lassa fever outbreak. http://www.afro.who.int/news/who-moves-contain-nigerias-lassa-fever-outbreak. Accessed February 19, 2018.
Alemu works for WHO.