Lassa fever is caused by a virus found in the droppings or urine of rats in West Africa. Contact with the droppings or urine leads to an acute viral disease that is life-threatening. Lassa fever may lead to bleeding (haemorrhagic fever) similar to Ebola virus.
Although lassa fever is usually not transmitted from person to person, healthcare workers who come in direct contact with the blood or body fluid of infected patients can become infected.
Lassa fever begins symptoms that are very similar to other diseases such as malaria and typhoid, namely:
- A general feeling of discomfort and lack of well-being.
- Generalized weakness.
- Sore throat.
- Severe headache.
- Chest pain.
- Back pain.
- Ringing ears.
- Abdominal pain.
- loose and watery stools.
Lassa fever is caused by the virus transmitted through contact with home utensils contaminated by rat droppings. You may also get infected by inhaling the aerosol from the rat droppings, droppings in foods you eat or in drinking water.
Individuals at the greatest risk of Lassa virus infection are those who live in or visit regions known to have high infection records, such as Nigeria. Healthcare workers who treat lassa fever patients are also at risk of contracting the disease.
It is spread through:
- Direct contact with urine, droppings, saliva or blood of infected rats.
- Eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with urine, droppings, saliva or blood of infected rats.
- Contact with objects, household items or surfaces contaminated with urine, droppings, saliva or blood of infected rats.
- Healthcare workers may become infected through contact with blood, urine, faeces, vomit and other body fluids of an infected person, particularly in a healthcare facility where infection prevention and control are poor.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above or have been exposed to rats, visit your healthcare provider immediately.
Also report all suspected cases of lassa fever to your Local Government Area Disease Surveillance and Notification Officer (DSNO). They are responsible for detecting and responding to lassa fever outbreaks in Nigeria.
You can prevent contracting the Lassa fever virus by avoiding contact with rats, covering food and drinking water in rodent-proof containers. You should avoid eating rats or other rodents. If you care for people with Lassa fever, you should wear a protective covering to avoid person-to-person transmission of the virus.
Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, has been used with success in lassa fever patients. It has been shown to be most effective when given early in the course of the illness. You should also receive supportive care to prevent dehydration, maintain sufficient oxygen in your blood and blood pressure, as well as treatment of any other complicating infections.
The focus of management is prevention of infections and control of the rat population. This includes:
- Regular hand-washing.
- Storing foods in rat-proof containers.
- Keeping garbage away from your home.
- Keeping pet cats.
- Avoiding blood and other bodily fluids when caring for sick relatives.
- Following safe burial procedures. Lassa fever remains infectious after death. It is essential to take extreme car when burying a victim, using personal protective equipment and destroying the clothes and belongings of the victim.
- Using protective equipment in a healthcare facilities, including masks and eyewear.
The rat that carries the virus is so widespread that it cannot realistically be eradicated. The main aim is to avoid these rats and prevent them from sharing your home and surroundings.
Keeping your home and its surroundings clean and ensuring your house is free from rats can protect you against the lassa virus. Early treatment is important if you are infected with the virus.
Healthcare workers must ensure that the healthcare facility takes infection prevention and control seriously, follows guidelines and protocols appropriately. Healthcare workers in areas where lassa fever occurs regularly in Nigeria should educate the public and promote prevention.