Following an increase in the number of Lassa fever cases reported from several states since the beginning of the year, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has declared an outbreak for Lassa fever, and activated an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate the response.
There has been an increase in the number of Lassa fever cases reported from several states across the country since the beginning of the year. Recent epidemiological data shows that this trend usually occurs during the dry season, between January and April.
As at 13 January 2019, a total of 60 confirmed cases have been reported in eight states.
Given this increase in reported cases of Lassa fever, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has declared this an outbreak and activated an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate the response.
The national EOC includes representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal Ministry of Environment, US Centers for Disease Control, as well as other partners.
In 2018, Nigeria had one of it’s largest ever Lassa fever outbreaks. Twenty-one states reported 3498 Lassa fever suspects during 2018, with 45 healthcare workers among the 423 confirmed cases.
In preparation for this year’s emergency phase, NCDC has been providing support to states including the provision of emergency supplies and deployment of Rapid Response Teams (RRT). The RRTs will work with states in response coordination, contact tracing, case management, risk communication and strengthening infection prevention and control practices.
Since the Lassa fever outbreak in 2018, NCDC has worked with states to ensure better preparedness and improved response. In the last one year, guidelines have been revised, new data management tools have been developed and the laboratory network has been strengthened. Additionally, risk communications has been strengthened through radio, posters, flyers and social media. A national research plan has been developed, to enable its full integration into the outbreak response to gain a better understanding of the disease.
Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness, transmitted to humans through contact with food or household items contaminated by infected rodents. Person-to-person transmission can also occur, particularly in hospital environment in the absence of adequate infection control measures. Health care workers in health facilities are particularly at risk of contracting the disease, especially where infection prevention and control procedures are not strictly adhered to.
Members of the public are advised to focus on prevention by practicing good personal hygiene and proper environmental sanitation. Effective measures include storing grain and other foodstuffs in rodent-proof containers, disposing of garbage far from the home, maintaining clean households, and other measures to discourage rodents from entering homes. Hand washing should be practiced frequently. The public is also advised to avoid bush burning.
Health care workers are again reminded that Lassa fever presents initially like any other disease-causing febrile illness such as malaria, and are advised to practice standard precautions at all times and to maintain a high index of suspicion. Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) must be applied to all suspected cases of malaria. When the RDT is negative, other causes of febrile illness including Lassa fever should be considered. Accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment increases the chances of survival.
The national guidelines for Infection Prevention and Control, as well as Lassa fever case management have been developed, disseminated to States and are available on the NCDC website for download
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control remains committed to supporting all States’ public health teams to prevent and respond to public health threats.