On Sunday the 14th of January 2018, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) was notified of four cases of Lassa fever among health care workers in Ebonyi State. Three of the four cases have subsequently passed away.
The Honourable Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, immediately requested that NCDC provides support to the Government of Ebonyi State, to investigate and respond to this cluster of cases.
Following the report, the Federal Ministry of Health through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) immediately commenced the public health response, supporting the Ebonyi State Ministry of Health. A Rapid Response Team has been immediately deployed from NCDC to support the State in response coordination, contact tracing, case management and strengthening infection prevention and control (IPC) procedures. The NCDC has also provided urgently required medical supplies and drugs to support case management in the State.
Lassa fever is a viral hemorrhagic disease, caused by contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces. The Lassa virus may also be spread between humans through direct contact with blood, urine, faeces, or other bodily secretions of a person infected with Lassa fever.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, ‘Health care workers in health facilities are particularly at risk of contracting the disease, especially where infection prevention and control (IPC) procedures are not strictly adhered to. We therefore strongly advise that health care workers practice universal care precautions while handling patients at all times, not just when Lassa fever is suspected. We commiserate with the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki (FETHA) and Ebonyi State Government, and will support them to avert a future occurrence’. Although there is no vaccine currently available for Lassa fever, the disease can be prevented. Members of the public are advised to keep their environments clean in order to discourage rats from entering homes. Food stuff should be stored in rodent-proof containers, garbage should be disposed properly and far from the home, and hand washing should be practiced frequently.
Health care workers are again reminded that Lassa fever presents initially like any other disease causing a febrile illness such as malaria; and are advised to practice universal care precautions at all times. 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.
Extra caution should be taken by family members who are providing care for patients with Lassa fever. In addition, States are encouraged to ensure safe burial practices for patients who die from Lassa fever.
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 (http://ncdc.gov.ng/diseases/guidelines).
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control remains committed to supporting all States’ public health teams to prevent and respond to public health threats.