Lassa Fever Outbreak in Nigeria Prompts Isolation

The CDC has issued a travel notice for Nigeria due to an outbreak of Lassa fever. The outbreak, which began in December 2016, has resulted in more than 400 confirmed cases and 100 deaths. The outbreak has been reported in the following states: Ondo, Edo, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Kogi, Taraba, Enugu, Benue, Gombe, Nasarawa, and Delta.

Lassa fever is a viral illness that is transmitted through contact with infected rodents or their urine or feces. Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, muscle pain, and bleeding from the mouth, nose, or eyes. Lassa fever can be fatal in up to 20% of cases.

Pregnant women are more likely to have severe cases of Lassa fever. The disease can lead to a miscarriage.

About a third of infected people end up with some deafness as a complication of the illness. This seems to be true whether their disease was mild or serious.

Overall, only about 1% of people who get sick with Lassa fever die. But the death rate for women in the late stages of pregnancy go up to 30%. Death from multi-organ failure can happen within 2 weeks after symptoms start.

How Does Lassa Fever Spread?

A type of rodent called the multimammate rat carries the Lassa fever virus in its pee and poop. There are lots of these rats in West, Central, and East Africa. They tend to live in homes and in other areas where people store food.

People risk catching Lassa fever from infected rats if they:

  • Come into contact with the rats’ pee or droppings
  • Catch and prepare the rodents as food
  • Breathe in tiny airborne particles infected with the rats’ poop

It’s rare, but possible, to get Lassa fever from a person who is sick with it. It can happen if their blood or body fluids get into your system through places like your eyes, nose, or mouth. You can’t catch the disease through casual contact, like by holding hands, hugging, or sitting near them.

Lassa Fever Diagnosis

Doctors usually spot the disease with a blood test. In the early stage of the illness, a nose or throat swab could also help them make the diagnosis.

Treatments for Lassa Fever

Your doctor will probably give you an antiviral drug called ribavirin. It works best when you take it soon after you get sick.

You may get this medicine through an IV or take it as a pill.

If you have a serious case of Lassa fever, you may need hospital care. There, doctors and nurses can:

  • Keep you hydrated
  • Give you extra oxygen
  • Keep your blood pressure in check
  • Treat other health problems you may have

Final Reminders

The CDC is advising travelers to Nigeria to avoid contact with rodents and their urine or feces. Travelers should also wash their hands regularly and avoid sharing food or utensils with others.

If you develop symptoms of Lassa fever while in Nigeria, you should seek medical attention immediately. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about your recent travel history so that they can provide the appropriate care.