The Federal Government yesterday confirmed the spread of the deadly Lassa Fever outbreak, stating that no fewer than 35 deaths have so far been recorded in eight states across the country within six weeks.
Nigerian Pilot had broken the story of the outbreak last Monday, naming Taraba and Nasarawa as the states in which the outbreak had claimed lives.
But a press statement issued by Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac F. Adewole last night, disclosed that in the last six weeks, the country has been experiencing Lassa Fever (LF) outbreak which has so far affected eight states, including Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo and Oyo.
The statement added that “the total number of suspected cases so far reported is 76 with 35 deaths, and a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 46%. Our laboratories have confirmed14 cases, indicative of a new episode of Lassa fever outbreak.”
According to him, “The first case of the current outbreak was reported from Bauchi in November, 2015. This was followed by cases reported by Kano State, and subsequently the other states mentioned above.”
The minister stated that Lassa Fever is an acute febrile illness, with bleeding and death in severe cases, caused by the Lassa Fever Virus, with an incubation period of 6-21 days. “About 80% of human infections are asymptomatic; the remaining cases have severe multi-system disease, where the virus affects several organs in the body, such as the liver, spleen and kidneys,” he stated further.
The minister further explained: “The onset of the disease is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, and malaise followed by headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, and bleeding from mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract, and low blood pressure.
“The reservoir or host of the Lassa virus is the “multimammate rat” called Mastomys natalensis which has many breasts and lives in the bush and peri-residential areas.
“The virus is shed in the urine and droppings of the rats, hence can be transmitted through direct contact, touching objects or eating food contaminated with these materials or through cuts or sores. Nosocomial transmission also occurs in health facilities where infection prevention and control practices are not observed. Person to person transmission also occurs most especially when a person comes in contact with the virus in the blood, tissue, secretions or excrements of an infected individual.”
The minister said that in response to these reported outbreaks, “my Ministry has taken the following measures to curtail further spread and reduce mortality among those affected:
“Immediate release of adequate quantities of ribavirin, the specific antiviral drug for Lassa Fever, to all the affected states for prompt and adequate treatment of cases.
“Deployment of rapid response teams from the Ministry to all the affected states to assist in investigating and verifying the cases and tracing of contacts.
“Clinicians and relevant healthcare workers sensitized and mobilized in areas of patient management and care in the affected states.
“Affected States have been advised to intensify awareness creation on the signs and symptoms and general hygiene. “
He added that it is important to note that Nigeria has the capability to diagnose Lassa Fever and all the cases reported so far were confirmed by our laboratories saying because the symptoms of Lassa fever are so varied and non-specific, clinical diagnosis is often difficult, especially early in the course of the disease.
Professor Adewole therefore advised that in view of the major steps taken so far, “all health facilities in the country are directed to emphasize routine infection prevention and control measures and ensure all patients are treated free.
He advised that, “Family members and health care workers to always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons.
“ No travel restrictions will be imposed from and to areas currently affected.
“Healthcare workers seeing a patient suspected to have Lassa Fever should immediately contact the State Epidemiologist in the state ministry of health or call the Federal Ministry of Health using the following numbers: 08093810105, 08163215251, 08031571667 and 08135050005.”
He also stated that the World Health Organization, WHO is being notified of the cases confirmed and seized the opportunity to express his sincere gratitude to WHO and other partners for the support so far given, adding that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC is already coordinating all response activities and reporting to him on daily basis.
In a telephone interview with the Director of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Professor Abdulsalam Nasidi said Lassa Fever ‘’is an infection from contaminated rats and so the issues of hygiene and avoiding the opening of foods for rats is so important. “So I am advising that anyone with symptoms of malaria like fever, headache and they are not responding to treatment should report immediately to the hospital.
“We have even advised all the health centres that they shouldn’t take chances; anybody having that kind of persistent fever should not wait for up to three to four days , they should report and we shall send drugs to them because the earlier we start the treatment the better,” he added.

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