Lassa fever also known as Lassa hemorrhagic fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus, a member of the Arenaviridae family. Like most other viruses that cause hemorrhagic fever, the Lassa fever virus is zoonotic meaning it needs animal reservoir or arthropod host for its replication and survival. In this case, the Natal multimammate mouse is the primary host.

It was first detected in 1969 in Lassa, a town in Borno state. Since then outbreaks have been seen in various West African countries; Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Central African Republic.

It is estimated that up to 300,000 cases and 5000 deaths each year. Exposure to the virus is through contact with objects infected with the urine or excreta, ingestion of contaminated food, inhalation of aerosols, or preparation of delicacies with the infected rodent.

Person-to-person transmission occurs via close contact with infected blood, body fluid or tissue infected with Lassa fever. Sexually transmitted transfer has also been documented.

The symptoms of Lassa are quite similar to those of Ebola and malaria, but unlike Ebola there are higher survival rates. In 80% of cases the disease is asymptomatic, but in the remaining 20% it takes its course. Incubation period is for about 6 to 21 days, after which an acute illness where multiple organs are affected. Some of the symptoms include fever and muscle fatigue (similar to malaria) as well as conjunctivitis, mucosal bleeding and deafness which may or may not be reversible. Other arising symptoms affect the gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, respiratory tract, nervous system.

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According to WHO Guidelines, Ribavirin seems to be an effective treatment for Lassa fever if given early on in the course of clinical illness. Pioneered in 1979 by Joe McCormick, Ribavirin is a prodrug which appears to interfere with viral replication by inhibiting RNA-dependent nucleic acid synthesis; however its mode of action is still in dispute. The drug is known to have an affinity for the placenta and can affect the fetus. At the moment work on a vaccine is continuing with multiple approaches showing positive results in animal studies.

Prevention of Lassa fever relies mainly on promoting of “community hygiene”. Some methods are listed below:

Foods should be stored especially grains should be stored in rodent-proof containers,

Garbage should be disposed far from home; rodents should be discouraged from entering the house.

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Do not engage in bush burning, this will only push the rodents from their home into yours.

Rekindle the hand washing culture and use of hand sanitizers.

Suspend all bush meat meals

Garri lovers beware; part of the process of garri production requires it to be sun dried where rodents can gain access to. If you must eat garri, make sure you heat it.

The virus is also deactivated by various disinfectants such as chlorine based products (bleach and water guard) and 3% vinegar. The virus was found to lose activity when in chlorine based product in 37 minutes at 60oC, it will be advantageous to add bleach to warm water while cleaning surfaces. And 15 minutes in 3% vinegar acid, this is useful when washing fruits and vegetables what will be eaten raw.

Do not drink salt water or bathe in it. Make sure the drinking water supply is reliable.

Maintain good hygiene practices and stay lassa fever free.

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