For those who don’t know, Lassa fever has reared its ugly head again. The Federal Government is battling the outbreak of the disease in Gombe, Bauchi, Plateau and Rivers states. All hands must be on deck to ensure that the country does not record the fatalities it did in the last round.
According to the World Health Organisation, Nigeria recorded 149 deaths from the virus. Lassa fever, according to experts, is a highly contagious disease but many Nigerians are not aware of its mode of infection and transmission. To stop these deaths, experts stress, one must know its history, symptoms and simple ways to prevent it.
According to Dr. Olumide Abunbarin, a virologist, Lassa fever is highly infectious because the species of rodents, the Multimammate rat, which hosts the virus, lives in many homes; hence a reason why many Nigerians are at risk of contracting the disease.
“The animal host of the Lassa virus is a rodent known as the Multimammate rat. It is of the genus Mastomys, which are in many homes in Nigeria. Many people set traps for them so they can eat them. People get infected when they come in direct contact with its urine, faeces , blood or any food it has contaminated.” Another public health physician, Dr. Segun Adeboye, says that another way in which one can contract the deadly virus is through poor hygiene. Adeboye notes that these rats feed on food remains and breed better in dirty environments, especially where there is a lot of refuse. He says, “If rats are fond of coming into your hose for their meals, then you should know you are at a higher risk of getting infected. They will live in your home and bring all the viruses they carry with them.
“If you eat food items contaminated with urine and droppings from an infected rat, you can be infected. The best thing is to store all food items in sealed containers.”
Adeboye stresses that there is no better time for Nigerians to take environmental sanitation and community management of refuse more seriously as these rats hide and breed better in dirty environments and open refuse dumps.
“There is an air-borne transmission of Lassa virus. One can be exposed to the virus if one inhales tiny particles in the air contaminated with rodent excretions. That is why there is the need for a proper personal and household management of refuse to keep rodents away from our homes and environment.
“Indiscriminate dumping of refuse should be avoided as this is a potential breeding ground for rats. Clearing of bushes and refuse to reduce hiding and breeding spaces for rats is also important,” he adds.
One can also contract the virus by touching the body fluids of an infected person. However, as infectious and deadly as Lassa fever is, it can be prevented through personal hygiene.
One of them is hand washing with soap. Adeboye notes that the importance of washing one’s hands with soap and water to get rid of germs, bacteria and other viruses cannot be overemphasised at this period.
According to him, this age-long habit has been proved to reduce one’s risk of getting infections by 60 per cent.
Adeboye states, “Many people are aware of washing of hands, but what we are saying is that you should use soap or a disinfectant when you are washing those hands. That is what will kill the bacteria or virus. Also, the hand is the means by which most infections are contracted. And the average person touches his/her mouth at least 10 times a day.
“Imagine if you had touched an infected person with your hand unknowingly, and you don’t wash your hand before eating. You have introduced a virus into your body just by being negligent. Science has proved that 70 per cent of infections are contracted via the mouth through the hands.”
Well, access to portable water is still a challenge in most cities in Nigeria. However, you can always improvise with hand sanitisers. They are portable, which means you can carry one in your bag, car and in your office.
Adeboye notes that organisations with employees that are more than 50 should have hand sanitisers installed in major entry points in their offices.
“People should promote the use of hand sanitisers , which have been chemically designed with natural disinfectants. It is potent and not poisonous. It is user-friendly and it is absorbed quickly into the skin, unlike when you use water and you have to clean with cloth again, which may now contaminate the hand you just washed. We must encourage more people to key into hygiene. Insist that the restaurants where you eat have it. Install it in your homes.” he says.
Also, any hospital that has the safety of its patients and health workers at heart would have had sanitisers installed in each of their wards and facilities by now including the toilets.
Experts note that the hospital environment remains the easiest place to contract infections and health workers must ensure that they do not become the carrier of the virus, thereby endangering their lives and that of other patients.
They insist that hospital owners must sensitise their workforce on the importance of decontamination as a means of infection control.
Adeboye says,“ The standard practice is that a doctor or nurse must wash his/her hands or use sanitisers before examining a patient and after examining the patient. There is no room for compromise now. We should not be seen as people that are careless again.
These are times for drastic measures especially if you live in any of the four states where some cases of Lassa fever have been confirmed.