Lassa fever, that is regularly found in Nigeria, is caused by a virus. Most cases occur during the dry season. In the first 2 weeks of 2022, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) recorded a total of 96 confirmed cases of Lassa fever and 11 deaths across 11 states including Ondo, Oyo and Edo states.
The NCDC has activated its Emergency Operation Centre aimed at providing surveillance and control. In Lagos, public education, drainage clearing, and waste management are some of the activities to control the rats carry the virus.
How you can catch lassa fever
You can get infected with the lassa virus in two main ways: when you come in contact with contaminated food or items, or when you come in contact with the body fluids of infected people.
Most people who get ill catch the virus from food, drink or surfaces contaminated with the lassa virus. Contamination happens when infected rats pee, pooh, lick or bleed onto food, household items and surfaces. This happens when rats live in homes where sanitation, food storage and rat control is poor.
Healthcare providers and caregivers usually catch the infection when they come in contact with body fluids of infected people. This can happen when they do not have appropriate protection (e.g. gloves, masks, gowns, goggles) and when infection prevention (e.g. isolating patients, sterilising equipment) is poor.
How to protect yourself in an outbreak
You can protect yourself from getting infected with the lassa virus by:
- Maintaining good home hygiene. Keep all surfaces clean and free of droppings. Do not wipe surfaces with your bare hands or reuse dusters or cloths without cleaning them.
- Keeping rats away from your home, especially your food stores. Use traps or pesticides to control rodents.
- Not touching or eating rats that you find dead in the home. Get rid of dead rats using gloves.
- Managing waste properly. Do not allow waste bins to stand for long or overflow. Empty as often as possible, following public health recommendations where you live.
- Storing food in rodent-proof containers. Cooked foods, fruits and water should be kept in containers rats cannot get into. This can include a fridge, freezer, cooler, locker or storage containers.
- If there are reports of lassa fever outbreak in your community, you should stop eating out for the time being. Eat home cooked meals and store leftovers appropriately. Only eat vegetables and fruits that you have washed or prepared yourself.
- Wearing protective clothing when caring for infected patients. Use latex gloves when in contact with patients and plastic gloves when cleaning body fluids from the floor or washing beddings.
- If you suspect that you may have been infected, go to the nearest healthcare centre to get tested for the virus. Early treatment with ribavirin leads to the best outcomes.