January 14, 2016

Lassa fever claims first death in Abuja

One person has died from Lassa Fever in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, taking deaths from the virus countrywide to 43, the health minister said on Wednesday.

The victim, the first to succumb to the virus in the capital, died in the National Hospital in central Abuja, a day after being transferred from a private medical centre in the suburb of Kubwa, Isaac Adewole said in a statement from his office.

The 33-year-old from the central city of Jos had recently married and been in Kubwa to visit family, he added.

“The minister has directed that all primary and secondary contacts of the victim should be tracked”, including healthcare staff, and vigilance increased, the statement said.

“The latest death from Lassa fever brings the total number of deaths to 43 in the country from 10 states.”

Adewole first announced the suspected outbreak last Friday, despite the first case of the disease being recorded in November in the northeastern state of Bauchi.

Seven of the affected states are in the north, with three others in the south.

Lassa fever is an acute haemorrhagic illness which belongs to the arenavirus family of viruses, which also includes the Ebola-like Marburg virus, according to the World Health Organization.

People with Lassa fever do not display symptoms in 80 percent of cases but it can cause serious symptoms and death in the remainder.

The virus is endemic in rodents in west Africa and is transmitted to humans by contact with food or household items contaminated with the animals’ faeces and urine.

Person-to-person contact is also possible through bodily fluids, particularly in hospitals when adequate infection control measures are not taken.

The number of Lassa fever infections in west Africa every year is between 100,000 to 300,000, with about 5,000 deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Adewole said the public should not panic because of the latest case but anyone with symptoms should seek medical attention.

Lassa fever outbreaks are not uncommon in Nigeria: in 2012, 1,723 cases were recorded with 112 fatalities but rates have declined since then, the minister said last week