Borno state in northeast Nigeria has recorded its first Lassa fever outbreak in almost five decades. The last confirmed outbreak of the deadly disease was in 1969. WHO is supporting the government to contain the outbreak in an area of the country which is already coping with a humanitarian crisis resulting from years of conflict.

Nigeria map divided by states/United Nations
Nigeria map divided by states/United Nations

Briefing journalists on the outbreak, the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Haruna Mshelia said the case which was isolated from a middle-aged woman from Zabramarri village near Maiduguri was the  first confirmed outbreak of Lassa fever in Borno State in 48 years.

In order to contain the outbreak, the WHO emergency humanitarian health team in the state has taken a number of actions. This includes rapid training on clinical case management, contact tracing, mobilizing a network of healthcare workers at the hospital, and building public awareness.

Fifty-four people who had contact with the index case have been identified and will be monitored for 21 days according to WHO protocols to ensure that any Lassa fever-related incidence is immediately contained. In addition, WHO has provided the State Ministry of Health and the hospitals with personal protection equipment including gloves, boots, goggles and masks, decontamination supplies, infrared thermometers as well as medical and laboratory supplies.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness of 2-21 days incubation period that occurs in West Africa including Nigeria. The Lassa virus is transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with a specific rodent (multimamate) urine or faeces. Person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur by body fluid contacts, particularly in hospitals lacking adequate infection prevention and control measures.