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Lassa fever: Study of An American Nurse that Became Ill in West Africa Raises Hope

Researchers  now have a better understanding of how the body  responds to Lassa fever, thanks to a close evaluation  of an American nurse that came down with Lassa fever while working in Togo, West Africa.

The findings of this unusual opportunity to monitor the effect of Lassa fever closely,  was published in a  June, 2017  Journal of Infectious Diseases report.

According to the study, the   American nurse was evacuated to the US for treatment in 2016. During this period, researchers looked at how his immune system responded to the infection, how long Lassa virus may be in the semen and how the disease responds to a new drug.

The researchers found that that the  immune system of the nurse recognized the virus and reacted strongly, causing additional health problems.

The researchers   also observed that up to two months after discharge, the nurse still had Lassa fever virus in his semen raising fresh concerns about including more information on safe sex practices in Lassa fever prevention campaigns.

Although, the nurse responded to the new oral drug, Favipiravir, he also had serious side effects too. Therefore, the new drug must evaluated further before making it available in the market.  Ribinavir is currently the drug of choice in the treatment of Lassa fever.

What You Should Know about Lassa fever

Lassa fever was discovered in 1969-48years ago-in the town of Lassa, following the mysterious deaths of two missionary nurses in Nigeria.

Most cases have been reported in Nigeria, Benin, Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Ghana.  In Nigeria, 5 suspected cases of Lassa fever were reported in Ondo State, on 21st of June, 2017. About 300 cases and over 150 deaths have been reported in Nigeria since August, 2015.

Infection is usually through contact with urine or faeces of rats. Also, contact with bodily fluids (urine, blood) of infected human leads to infection.

It occurs mostly in West Africa, affecting up to 300,000 persons yearly.

It causes the death of about 5000 persons yearly. This often occurs within two weeks of infection

The common symptoms of Lass fever are :

  • Bleeding from nose, mouth etc.
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache and body weakness
  • Facial swelling  

What You Can Do to Prevent Lassa Fever

According to the World Health Organization, prevention lies in using rat proof containers for foodstuff and maintaining clean households.

During an interview with Daily Trust, Dr. Ogugua Osi-Ogbu, a chief consultant physician and coordinator for Lassa fever infection control, National Hospital, Abuja, recommended that ”bushes and clutters around the house must be cleared to make the surrounding unattractive to rats. Food, cooking utensils and drinking water must be kept in rat proof containers, avoid using rats as food sources”.

In some shops, urine and droppings of rats may be on soft drink bottles, water sachets, unsealed straws and cans. Therefore, thoroughly wash these items before consuming them.

Furthermore, avoid touching droppings, urine or secretions of rats while cleaning your house or room. Never touch dead rodents with bare hands and wash your hands regularly and properly.

Health care workers and laboratory staff should also use protective clothing to reduce contact with infected humans or samples.

Hopefully, in the next few years medicines that are more effective would be available to treat this deadly disease.

Medically reviewed by Dr Fowotade A. MBBS, FMCPath

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