…as NAS seeks committee to investigate, manage outbreaks
Nigeria Academy of Science (NAS) has raised the alarm over the impact of Lassa fever yearly resurgence, saying since the first case was reported in Nigeria 50 years ago in January 1969, a total of 16,783 suspected cases have been reported with 1,047 deaths.
According to a statement from NAS signed by its president, Prof. K. Mosto Onuoha, of the fatal cases, 73 healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses and other categories of hospital staff have died.
To this end, NAS consequently called for the establishment of an interdisciplinary One-Health Committee to advise and assist the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in investigating and managing Lassa fever outbreaks in the country.
Onuoha also urged the Federal Government to declare Lassa fever disease a public health event of national concern.
According to the Academy, the committee should comprise of medical and veterinary specialists, epidemiologists, social scientists, media practitioners, and community representatives, among others.
He urged the government to take positive and sustained action necessary to prevent and control Lassa fever now, and not wait until more fatalities are recorded as a result of the yearly occurrence.
The NAS said government should provide adequate funds for a sensitive disease surveillance system backed by a reliable network of diagnostic laboratories.
Similarly, Onuoha said funds should be provided for research into finding new drugs for Lassa fever treatment and the development of a Lassa fever vaccine.
He stated: “Given that only about 20 per cent of suspected Lassa fever cases are usually confirmed, there is the need to improve the capability and enhance the capacity of the national laboratory network for reliable and efficient definitive diagnosis of suspected cases.
“The federal and state governments need to mount an extensive and sustained public Lassa fever prevention and control awareness programme.”
The president of NAS said each state should establish a functional isolation ward for the treatment of Lassa fever patients.
“It is important to set up a mechanism for improving environmental sanitation in a sustained manner throughout the country to reduce rodent population and rodent-human contact,” he added.
Over the past 50 years, Onuoha stated that Lassa fever has become a disease occurring in perennial outbreaks, in nearly all the states of Nigeria, with increasing number of suspected cases, dry season peaks, and unacceptably high case fatality rates.
“While a drug exists for the treatment of the disease, the inefficient laboratory diagnosis and late hospital admission of patients, add up to make the drug less effective in treating Lassa fever patients,” he lamented.
He added that the spread of the disease throughout the country may have resulted from increasing human-rodent contact in an explosive population of rodents generated by pervasive poor environmental sanitation.
Lassa fever occurs throughout the year, with seasonal peaks, beginning from the early dry season months of November until the beginning of the rainy season.
Onuoha said between 1969 and 2007, Lassa fever was reported in only two states (Borno and Plateau). However, from 2008 to 2012, the disease spread to an additional eight other states; from 2013 until 2019, at least 23 states reported Lassa fever cases annually.
Over the 50-year period of Nigeria reporting 16,783 suspected Lassa fever cases, 11,195 (67 per cent) were reported between 2016 and January 29, 2020, while 632 (60 per cent) of 1,047 Lassa fever deaths were reported during the same period.
According to the president of NAS, 921 suspected Lassa fever cases were reported in 2016. The respective figures for 2017 and 2018 were 1,030 and 3,498 suspected cases.
An alarm was raised over the tripling of the number of suspected cases between 2017 and 2018, only for the reported number of suspected cases to rise in 2019 to 5,057, which was 145 per cent of the reported 2018 figures.
During the period 1969 to 1975, the range of Lassa fever mortality in hospitalised patients was between 33 per cent and 100 per cent.
In recent years, however, the mortality rate has dropped to 20 per cent.
Laboratory confirmation of suspected cases has been of great concern, Onuoha stated.
Of the 3,498 suspected cases in 2018, only 633 (18 per cent) were confirmed Lassa fever positive, while in 2019, only 833 (16.5 per cent) of the 5,057 suspected were confirmed.