Lassa fever was first discovered in 1969 after two nurses died of a strange illness in the town of Lassa, Borno State, Nigeria. The condition is characterised by an acute viral hemorrhagic fever caused by a microorganism called “Lassa virus”.
The virus is shed in the urine and feaces of Mastomys natalensis (A rat that causes Lassa fever). A ‘Lassa fever causing rat’ can easily be identified because they have a total of 24 ‘nipples’ instead of 12 (normal number of nipples in rats).
The key to controlling this virus that causes 5,000 deaths annually is by elimination of rats and proper sanitisation of the environment. The incubation period (Time it takes for the disease to develop) is about 21 days.
In 80 per cent of cases, Lassa fever is asymptomatic (A carrier of the disease fails to show the noticeable symptoms with which the disease is usually associated). Nonspecific symptoms include fever, facial swelling, and muscle fatigue, as well as conjunctivitis and mucosal bleeding. Early symptom can be similar to malaria.
Lassa fever is a zoonotic disease (a disease that can be passed between animals and humans.) Transmission from human to human has been established, presenting a disease risk for healthcare workers.
Humans can get infected by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated with feaces or urine that contains the virus. In addition, the Lassa fever virus can get into the body if contaminated substance is inhaled or touches broken skin or mucous membranes (a biological membrane that lines various cavities in the body and surrounds internal organs). Mucous membranes can be found in our eyes, nose and mouth.
Like earlier reiterated, elimination of rats is key to controlling Lassa fever virus. However, please exercise caution and do not use toxic chemicals in rat control. Keep babies, toddlers and pets away when applying rat poisons and be careful to avoid food and water sources because rat poisons can harm the rat and pets or human beings that come in contact with the poison or poisoned rat. For example, a rat that consumes poison becomes weak and slow. As such, it is an easy catch for a cat. If a cat consumes such a rat, the cat will get poisoned.
I recall responding to a distress call in which a client’s dog was in comma. On getting to the house, I found the dog had vomited before passing out. Further observation of the vomitus revealed four dark objects. A closer look at these objects revealed partially digested rats. Apparently, the client had previously placed highly toxic rat bait in the environment and the dog had consumed the poisoned rats.
A safe way to eliminate rats is by adding some bait (food) to a human drug known as Indomethacin (popularly known as In-do-cid).
Indomethacin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly used as a human prescription medication to reduce fever, pain, stiffness, and swelling. However, in rats and mice, Indomethacin has gastroulcerogenic effects (It destroys the inner lining of the stomach of rats and this result in death of the rat or mice.
Beyond eliminating rats, it is also important that you ensure your house is not condusive for rats. This can be achieved by clearing the environment and getting rid of wood piles, tyres, bowls, buckets, and other objects that they can hide in.
In addition, pick up and dispose old newspapers, magazines, cardboards, and other objects that can be food them.
Store provision in sealed plastic containers and place ripe fruits, rice and long-term storage items in the refrigerator. Wash dishes daily or, at least, submerge in soapy water until you can get to them. Dispose garbage in air-tight plastic containers that are inaccessible to rats.
Keep bathroom and kitchen areas as dry as possible. Fix leaky faucets and don’t let standing water accumulate. This is necessary because many insects and rats are attracted to moist areas.
Clean counter tops and tables regularly with disinfectant containing antiviral agents. A good and readily homemade anti-viral solution is “bleach” because it contains sodium hypochlorite (an anti-viral agent). Sodium hypochlorite would help to disinfect surfaces and also destroy the Lassa fever virus.
Also at this time, ensure you wash your hands frequently and thoroughly because hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection.
Wash your hands before, during, and after preparing food. Wash your hands before and after caring for someone who is sick, after using the toilet, after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
Wash your hands before and after treating a cut or open wound, after touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste. Don’t forget to wash your hands after touching garbage. Clean hands saves lives.
In conclusion, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, in a statement issued in Abuja in response to the outbreak of disease in the country has advised that healthcare workers attending a patient suspected to have Lassa fever should immediately contact the State Epidemiologist in the state ministry of health or call the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Federal Ministry of Health using the following numbers: 08093810105, 08163215251, 08031571667and 08135050005.