Awka-Anambra Commissioner for Health, Dr Vincent Okpala, has urged the people to maintain proper sanitary conditions in their environment to prevent the spread of Lassa fever.

The commissioner said this while addressing the newsmen in his office at the Jerome Udoji Secretariat Complex, Awka.

Dr Okpala said that there was no incidence of Lassa fever in the state and briefed the people on dangers of the disease in our society.

He explained that Lassa fever was an acute viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) caused by Lassa virus.

The natural reservoir for the virus is the Mastomys natalensis rodent commonly known as the multimammate rat. Other rodents have also been identified to carry the virus,” he said.

The commissioner maintained that Lassa fever remained a major public health challenge in West Africa with Nigeria bearing the highest burden.

Lassa fever occurs throughout the year but more cases are recorded during dry season from Nov. to May, with 81 cases reported from six states,” Okpala said.

Lassa fever is spread through direct contact with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats.

Contact with objects, household items and surfaces or eating food contaminated with urine, faeces, saliva or blood of infected rats.

Dr Okpala said that the disease symptoms include fever, headaches, sore throat, general body weakness, coughing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and chest pains.

He explained that in severe cases, unexplainable bleeding from ears, eyes, nostrils, mouths and other body openings were observed.

Commissioner said the time between the infection and appearance of symptoms of the disease ranges from 3 to 21 days.

He emphasised that early treatment and diagnosis increase the chances of survival.

Dr Okpala explained that people of all age groups, who come in contact with urine, faeces, saliva, and blood of rats, stand higher risk of contracting the disease.

People living in rat-infested environment also have increased chances of coming in contact with rats.

People who consume potentially contaminated food stuff especially those left open overnight or dried outside in the open.

People who handle or process rodents for consumption and those who do not perform hand hygiene when appropriate.

Relatives who care for sick persons with unexplained illnesses at home, doctors, nurses and other health workers providing direct patient care in the absence of standard precautions.

Hospital staff that clean, disinfect contaminated surfaces, materials and supplies without adequate protective gear.

He adds: Laboratory staff who handle blood samples of suspected Lassa fever patients, without appropriate precautions, medical or support staff that prepare or handle dead bodies without appropriate precautions can contract the disease”.

To reduce the risk of Lassa fever, he gave the following advice:

Ensure proper environmental sanitation, i.e. keep your environment clean at all times, and block all holes in your houses to prevent rats from entering.

Cover your dustbins and dispose refuse properly. Communities should set up dump sites very far from their homes to reduce the chances of having rodents within homes.

Store food stuff like rice, garri, beans, corn/maize and the likes in air tight containers.

Avoid drying food stuff outside on the floor and on roadside where it will be exposed to contamination.”

He advised Ndi Anambra to avoid bush fires which could lead to displacement of rats from bushes to human dwellings and eliminate rats in homes and communities by setting rat traps.

He enjoined healthcare workers to practice standard precautions at all times, that is, wearing gloves when handling patients or providing care to an ill patient/relative.

Healthcare workers should maintain a high index of suspicion for Lassa fever, be vigilant and look out for symptoms of Lassa fever.”

Dr Okpala advised that any febrile illness that has not responded to 48 hours use of anti-malaria or antibiotics should raise an index of suspicion for Lassa fever.

He also called on the healthcare workers to report any suspected case of Lassa fever to their local government disease surveillance and notification officer to access care.

The commissioner said that Anambra State Ministry of Health was on the alert and fully prepared to respond to any outbreak of Lassa fever in the state.

Source: Anambra State Government