The outbreak of the endemic virus continues to mount, both in suspected and confirmed cases and deaths, according to up-to-date data from the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control.

Nigeria Image/ Vardion at the English Wikipedia project
Image/ Vardion at the English Wikipedia project

As of Jan. 20, of the 239 confirmed and suspected Lassa fever cases reported from 18 Nigerian states, 82 confirmed and suspected Lassa deaths have been documented.

The states of Niger, Bauchi and Taraba have seen the most cases with 56, 38 and 23, respectively. Niger state accounts for a quarter of the deaths (21).

Because of the outbreak, the garri industry (a popular West African food made from cassava tubers) may be in trouble, which totals billions of naira in economic activity.

According to the Nigerian Guardian:

The threat to the garri industry is due to a message currently circulating widely on the social media platforms warning Nigerians against the consumption of garri. The message reads: “The problem is that most of our garri sellers buy their garri from bush markets.

This garri is often fried half dry and subsequently dried on polythene sheets on the tarred roads or compounds in the villages where rats feed on them and in the process defecate and urinate on the garri, which dries up with it. If used for eba, the virus may die because of the hot water used. But if soaked in normal water and consumed, the virus is directly ushered in.”

In addition, Nigerian Health Minister,  Prof. Isaac Adewole warns that the battle against Lassa is quite different than the recent battle against Ebola Virus Disease.

Image/ C. S. Goldsmith, P. Rollin, M. Bowen This transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicted numbers of Lassa virus virions adjacent to some cell debris. The virus, a member of the virus family Arenaviridae, is a single-stranded RNA virus, and is zoonotic, or animal-borne that can be transmitted to humans. The illness, which occurs in West Africa, was discovered in 1969 when two missionary nurses died in Nigeria, West Africa.In areas of Africa where the disease is endemic (that is, constantly present), Lassa fever is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. While Lassa fever is mild or has no observable symptoms in about 80% of people infected with the virus, the remaining 20% have a severe multisystem disease. Lassa fever is also associated with occasional epidemics, during which the case-fatality rate can reach 50%. There are a number of ways in which the virus may be transmitted, or spread, to humans. The Mastomys rodents shed the virus in urine and droppings. Therefore, the virus can be transmitted through direct contact with these materials, through touching objects or eating food contaminated with these materials, or through cuts or sores. Because Mastomys rodents often live in and around homes and scavenge on human food remains or poorly stored food, transmission of this sort is common. Contact with the virus also may occur when a person inhales tiny particles in the air contaminated with rodent excretions. This is called aerosol or airborne transmission. Finally, because Mastomys rodents are sometimes consumed as a food source, infection may occur via direct contact when they are caught and prepared for food.
C. S. Goldsmith, P. Rollin, M. Bowen

He said, “We cannot win the battle against Lassa fever the same way we won the one against Ebola.

“Ebola happened to be a single importation to the country. Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria.

The response to the outbreak includes 71,000 tabs of Ribavirin, 20,750 vials of parenteral Ribavirin and 960 pieces of PPE distributed to the affected states as of today; Isolation centers have been identified in most states; NCDC/Niger state team supervised the safe burial of a suspected case today and 5 National laboratories with PCR capability are currently conducting analysis of samples.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lassa fever is an acute viral illness that occurs in West Africa. The virus, a member of the virusfamily Arenaviridae, is a single-stranded RNA virus and is zoonotic, or animal-borne.

Lassa fever is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. While Lassa fever is mild or has no observable symptoms in about 80% of people infected with the virus, the remaining 20% have a severe multisystem disease.

The animal host of Lassa virus is a rodent known as the “multimammate rat” of the genus Mastomys. Humans get infected with Lassa through aerosol or direct contact with excreta from the rodent. Laboratory infections do occur primarily through contaminated needles.

The symptoms of Lassa fever typically occur 1-3 weeks after the patient comes into contact with the virus. These include fever, retrosternal pain (pain behind the chest wall), sore throat, back pain, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, facial swelling, proteinuria (protein in the urine), and mucosal bleeding. Neurological problems have also been described, including hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis.

The Lassa virus and was 1st described in 1969 in the town of Lassa, in Borno State, Nigeria.