The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is reporting that the latest data shows that the number of new confirmed and probable cases has been falling for five consecutive weeks; however, this should be interpreted with caution.
The current epidemic is Nigeria’s largest on record, with the number of confirmed cases in January and February alone exceeding the total number reported in the whole of 2017. Nearly 400 confirmed infections and 100 deaths have been reported.
“The Lassa fever season is not yet over. We need to maintain vigilance and response operations, and ensure continued engagement with communities to help curb the further spread of Lassa fever,” said Dr Wondimagegnehu Alemu, WHO Representative to Nigeria.
The case count has not yet fallen to usual endemic levels and the exact cause for the high numbers of infections has not been pinpointed. Research is being conducted in real-time to answer some of these questions.
“We are researching what has led to so many people becoming infected with Lassa fever,” said Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Chief Executive Officer of the NCDC. “Even with a downward trend, until we can better understand the causes behind its rapid spread, we must treat the outbreak as a priority.”
Whole genome sequencing can reveal information that contributes to the understanding and the control of infectious disease outbreaks.
The preliminary results suggest that the circulating virus is consistent with previous outbreaks and not caused by a new more virulent strain.
“By conducting research as the Lassa fever outbreak unfolds, Nigeria is a pioneering a new approach. Until now research in Africa has taken place much later in the response cycle. This is a new approach which opens the way to much more effective control of emerging and dangerous pathogens,” said Dr Alemu.