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SASTM Newsflash - Lassa fever kills 3 in Benue state, Nigeria


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SASTM Newsflash


Lassa fever kills 3 in Benue state, Nigeria


At least 3 persons, including a medical doctor, were said to have died of Lassa fever at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi. The state Commissioner for Health, Dr Orduen Abunku, who disclosed this to journalists in Makurdi yesterday [Tue 15 Jan 2013], said the deceased were referred to the teaching hospital from another hospital, maintaining that clinical suspicion indicated that the ailment might be Lassa fever.


Abunku intimated that already, they have taken proactive steps by kitting all doctors in the hospital with protective equipment and administered anti-viral drugs to prevent spread of the disease, adding that another patient who contacted the ailment had been isolated from the rest of the patients in the hospital. "I am confident that with the steps we have taken, there would not be a wide spread of the disease. I also urge people to cover their food well to avoid rat faeces from entering them," Abunku said.


Chief Medical Director of the teaching hospital, Dr Orkuda Malu, who also confirmed the deaths, said the blood samples of the deceased had been taken to Edo State for authentication.


Communicated by: ProMED-mail


[Lassa fever is an acute viral illness that occurs in West Africa. The illness was discovered in 1969 when 2 missionary nurses died in Nigeria, West Africa. The cause of the illness was found to be Lassa virus, named after the town in Nigeria where the 1st cases originated.

The virus, a member of the virus family _Arenaviridae_, is a single-stranded RNA virus and is zoonotic, or animal-borne. Lassa fever is mild or has no observable symptoms in about 80 percent of people infected with the virus, the remaining 20 percent have a severe multisystem disease. Lassa fever is also associated with occasional epidemics, during which the case-fatality rate can reach 50 percent.


The reservoir, or host, of Lassa virus is a rodent known as the "multimammate rat" of the genus _Mastomys_. It is not certain which species of _Mastomys_ are associated with Lassa; however, at least 2 species carry the virus in Sierra Leone. _Mastomys_ rodents breed very frequently, produce large numbers of offspring, and are numerous in the savannas and forests of West, Central, and East Africa. In addition, _Mastomys_ generally readily colonize human homes.


There are a number of ways in which the virus may be transmitted, or spread, to humans. The _Mastomys_ rodents shed the virus in urine and droppings. Therefore, the virus can be transmitted through direct contact with these materials, through touching objects or eating food contaminated with these materials, or through cuts or sores. Because _Mastomys_ rodents often live in and around homes and scavenge on human food remains or poorly stored food, transmission of this sort is common. Contact with the virus also may occur when a person inhales tiny particles in the air contaminated with rodent excretions. This is called aerosol or airborne transmission. Finally, because _Mastomys_ rodents are sometimes consumed as a food source, infection may occur via direct contact when they are caught and prepared for food.


Lassa fever may also spread through person-to-person contact. This type of transmission occurs when a person comes into contact with virus in the blood, tissue, secretions, or excretions of an individual infected with the Lassa virus. The virus cannot be spread through casual contact (including skin-to-skin contact without exchange of body fluids). Person-to-person transmission is common in both village and health care settings [as in the report above], where, along with the modes of transmission mentioned above, the virus also may be spread in contaminated medical equipment, such as reused needles (nosocomial transmission).


Approximately 15-20 percent of patients hospitalized for Lassa fever die from the illness. However, overall only about 1 percent of infections with Lassa virus result in death. The death rates are particularly high for women in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, and for fetuses, about 95 percent of which die in the uterus of infected pregnant mothers. The antiviral drug ribavirin has been used with success in the treatment of Lassa fever patients.




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