Nigeria’s Lassa fever outbreak has reached record highs with 317 laboratory confirmed cases, according to figures released by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) this week.
A statement from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday indicated that the number of confirmed cases during the past two months exceeds the total number of confirmed cases reported in 2017.
“The outbreak has affected 18 states since the first case was detected on 1st January 2018, resulting in 72 deaths caused by the acute viral haemorrhagic fever. A total of 2,845 people who have come into contact with patients have been identified and are being monitored,” the statement read in part.
Lassa fever, named after the town in northern Nigeria where it was first identified in 1969, is endemic but the number of confirmed cases “has never reached” this level before, it added.
On February 6, 31 people were reported to have died from the disease, which is caused by a virus of the same family as Marburg and Ebola.
But in an update, the NCDC said: “Since the onset of 2018, 325 cases have been classified as 317 confirmed cases, eight probable cases with 72 deaths.”
14 health workers have been affected by the virus in six states with four confirmed to have died from the disease.
The WHO said a total of 2,845 people who have come into contact with patients have been identified and were being monitored.
WHO Country Representative, Dr Wondimagegnehu Alemu, attributed the likely chances of a patient’s survival of the virus to the ability of an early detection and taking quick response.
“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,” he said.
While lamenting the overstretching of health facilities in southern states of Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi, the WHO reiterated its commitment to working with health authorities, national reference hospitals and the Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) to rapidly expand treatment centres.
It also assured to equip them in a bid to providing maximum health care to patients while reducing the risks to staff.
Alemu added, “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 healthcare workers is likely to increase.”
Lassa fever is spread through contact with food or items contaminated with rats’ urine or faeces or after coming into direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
It can be prevented by enhanced hygiene and avoidance of all contact with rats.
More than 100 people were killed in 2016 in an outbreak affecting 14 of the 36 states, including Lagos and the capital Abuja.