By Chioma Umeha
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said that it had taken a number of measures to prevent a recurrence of the outbreak of t
Recall that between 2015 and 2016, Nigeria recorded one of the largest outbreaks of Lassa fever in its history- reporting 273 cases, including 149 deaths. Of these, 165 cases and 89 deaths had been confirmed through laboratory testing (CFR: 53.9 per cent). The cases were reported from 23 states in Nigeria.
In response to this, the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole inaugurated a Lassa Fever Eradication Committee under the leadership of Prof. Oyewale Tomori to look into the situation and proffer strategies for the NCDC to prevent future outbreaks and thereby reduce the deaths from Lassa fever in Nigeria.
While confirming the case of Lassa fever, the NCDC said it involved a healthcare worker who had died at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, on December 20, 2016.
The female nurse died before the laboratory result revealed she was positive for Lassa virus.
Reacting to the latest Lassa casualty, the National Coordinator and CEO, NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, allayed fears of fresh imminent Lassa epidemic.
Ihekweazu said it has since dispatched a team of epidemiologists, to support Ogun State to respond to the outbreak.
“An Emergency Operations Centre had since been set up to monitor all contacts of the case, disinfecting contaminated areas and co-ordinating all response activities.”
The NCDC as directed by Minister of Health had been working hard behind the scenes towards preventing the recurrence of the outbreak as recorded last year, Ihekweazu stressed.
He also said that the Minister of Health instructed the leadership of NCDC to commence preparations early in the year by implementing the Lassa Fever Prevention Strategy to prevent the outbreak of the disease this year.
The core of this strategy is to prevent another large Lassa fever outbreak and ensure that all the states in the country are able to respond to any case, National Coordinator and CEO, NCDC, maintained.
After reviewing past experiences, the NCDC developed an approach that focused on preparing the States to lead on prevention and response to cases should they occur, Ihekweazu told journalists in an interview weekend, in Abuja.
According to him, the approach focuses on strengthening the capacities and capabilities of States to prevent, detect and respond to Lassa fever while the NCDC co-ordinates the efforts.
National Coordinator also noted that new guidelines describing all the necessary actions were developed, and are always available for downloading from the NCDC website (http://www.ncdc.gov.ng/diseases/guidelines).
He said: “The guidelines describe systems, activities, and resources at national, state and local government area levels required to respond to suspected cases of Lassa fever.
“It builds on lessons from previous outbreaks. A copy of the guidelines was also sent to all state ministries of health across the country.
“In addition, NCDC mapped out all the States of the country based on their risk of Lassa fever.”
Ihekweazu further said that a team from NCDC had travelled across the country to deliver prevention and response materials and medicines to every State in the country.
While the efforts were ongoing, the NCDC team reached every capital of every State in the country with the supplies and were received by the State epidemiologists, he added.
According to Ihekweazu, the prepositioning of commodities has now ensured that all 36 states and the FCT have a full complement of emergency materials.
This comprises: personal protection equipment, ribavirin, disinfection sprayers, hand sanitisers, hypochlorite (bleach), case definition posters, hard copies of IDSR technical guidelines and safety boxes.
The CEO explained that one critical aspects of responding to Lassa fever is the ability to verify the disease.
He added that the NCDC commenced activities towards strengthening Lassa fever reference laboratories in the country to ensure faster turnaround of laboratory samples result collected across the country.
Ihekweazu said: “The diagnosis of Lassa fever requires specific capabilities in laboratories. The NCDC is working with the two laboratories in the country that currently has capacity to diagnose Lassa fever in Lagos and Irrua to increase their diagnostic capacities, while planning for a larger laboratory network to serve the country.
“A nationwide risk communications plan has also been developed. Throughout the dry season, a new communications plan would address priority antecedents of Lassa fever outbreak to ensure prevention is guaranteed.”
The communication targets all key stakeholders, from presidency to households in Nigeria, and would emphasise the ways to prevent Lassa fever infection, he said.
The Lassa virus is transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with infected rodent urine or faeces. Lassa can also be transmitted from human to human through contact with the body fluids of an infected person.
Responding to questions on key messages to Nigerians on protective measures, Ihekweazu said they are the same as last year.
He said: “First, protect your food items from access to rats using whatever means that you can afford – refrigerate, cover, store properly.
Second, if you do have a fever, insist on getting tested for malaria using a rapid diagnostic test (RDT) – remembering that not every fever is malaria.
“No healthcare worker can diagnose malaria without a test, and it is the right of every Nigerian to demand a test.
“Finally and critically, health care workers must remember that healthcare settings are particularly risky, and staff should always apply standard infection prevention and control precautions when caring for patients, regardless of their presumed diagnosis.
“These include basic hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, use of personal protective equipment (to block splashes or other contact with infected materials), safe injection practices and safe burial practices,” Ihekweazu said.