Lassa fever or Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF) is a highly infectious rat-borne illness caused by Lassa virus. It is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever and was named after Lassa in Borno State, Nigeria where it was first discovered. Approximately 15%-20% of patients hospitalized for Lassa fever die from the illness.
The “multimammate rat” (Mastomys natalensis) is the carrier of Lassa virus which is present in their urine. These rodents easily colonize human homes especially areas where food items are stored to scavenge on leftover food items or poorly stored food thereby shedding their urine and droppings into the food.
Lassa Virus is transferred to humans by:
- Eating contaminated food items.
- Inhaling tiny particles in the air contaminated with infected rodent excretions.
- Touching contaminated objects or materials.
- Exposure to open cuts or sores.
- Eating rodents as food.
- Person-to-person transmission may occur after exposure to virus in the blood, tissue, secretions, or excretions of a Lassa virus-infected person.
Symptoms usually occur 1-3 weeks after the patient comes into contact with the virus and about 80% of the symptoms are mild and un-diagnosed which includes:
- Slight Fever
- Body weakness
while 20%are severe. They include:
- Respiratory problems
- Facial Swelling
- Body pains especially in the chest, back and abdomen
- Neurological problems such as loss of hearing, tremors and encephalitis.
- Death as a result of multi-organ failure.
Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, has been used in treating Lassa-virus infected persons and it has been shown to be most effective when given early in the course of the illness.
- Primary transmission of the Lassa virus from rodents to humans can be prevented by avoiding contact with Mastomys rodents.
- Keeping a clean and healthy enevironment.
- Wearing protective clothing such as masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles when taking care of Lassa-virus infected persons.
- Isolating infected persons from contact with unprotected persons until the illness is cured.
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