Lassa fever, or Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), is a type of hemorrhagic fever like Ebola, and it is prevalent in parts of West Africa, including Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. Outbreaks of this illness happen every year, but the largest so far was in Nigeria in 2018. This was what brought the illness to the attention of a lot of people; up to that moment, there were Nigerians who had no idea what Lassa fever was.
The recent outbreaks of Lassa fever in Nigeria and other countries in West Africa have caused a lot of unease among indigenous and foreign folks. It has also spread a lot of misinformation concerning the illness, and, as we all know, misinformation can have just as negative an impact as the illness itself.
So, SqueakyClean has rounded all the correct, need-to-know, and interesting information concerning Lassa fever and neatly arranged them into 7 points, so that you don’t get bored reading about it. So, let us get right to it!
1. The Name This may not have anything to do with the price of liquid soap, but it is an interesting fact to know. The first recorded case of the illness was in a little known place called Lassa in Borno state, Nigeria. Hence the name, Lassa fever.
2. The Cause The short and sweet version is: Lassa fever is caused by the Lassa virus.
3. How it Spreads Lassa fever is caused by the Lassa virus, which is spread by the natal multimammate mouse, or African rat if you will. (It is called a ‘multimammate mouse/rat’ because the female of this species has multiple and prominent mammary glands).
The African rat is the most common rat in equatorial Africa, and it is found in households and in the wild; the latter is called ‘bush rat’ and eaten as a delicacy. The rat acts as a host for the Lassa virus and doesn’t fall ill from having the virus.
Humans get Lassa fever when they come in contact with food, air, or water that has been contaminated by the urine, droppings, or blood of infected rats. This means that anything an infected rat has shed on in your home could be contaminated, including cooking and eating utensils, uncovered food, beddings, et cetera.
While this is the primary way that Lassa fever spreads, you can also get the fever by coming in contact with the blood, urine, feces, or other bodily fluids of an infected person.
4. The Symptoms Signs of being infected by the Lassa virus show anytime from 7 to 21 days after exposure; most of the time, symptoms do not show in those who have been infected.
Mild symptoms include tiredness, weakness, fever, and headaches.
Severe symptoms include vomiting, chest pain, bleeding gums, breathing problems, low blood pressure, and miscarriages (for pregnant women).
5. The Treatment There is no vaccine for Lassa fever. However, an antiviral drug called ribavirin is successfully used to treat Lassa fever patients when given early, at the onset of the illness.
Lassa fever is treated mainly by focusing on keeping patients hydrated, maintaining normal blood pressure, treating any complicating infections that come up, and keeping the proper balance of fluids and electrolytes. All patients must be isolated and their waste properly disposed of.
6. Prevention Stay clean!
Keep a clean, sanitized environment – this will get rid of the rats. Store your food in containers with covers or seals. Always wash cooking and eating utensils before and after use. Always wash your hands with soap and water. If you must eat bush meat, use gloves and cook thoroughly. If you work in a healthcare facility, you can read more in-depth prevention methods here.
7. Prognosis Lassa fever is classified as an endemic in Nigeria, which means that it is always present. However, the prognosis for the illness is good. Healthcare professionals are not at great risk of infection as long as they take all necessary preventive measures.