How To Keep Yourself Safe From Lassa Fever



Lassa fever is a viral haemorrhagic fever which has been endemic in the West African subcontinent since it was first discovered in 1969 in a town called Lassa in Borno state. It reportedly affects about 500000 persons in this region on an annual basis, leading to an estimated 5000 deaths. In fact, the current outbreak of the deadly virus has led to 43 deaths across 11 states of Nigeria and threatens to continue to spread if an aggressive response is not mounted early enough. Unfortunately, however, the public knows very little about this virus hence the need for extensive enlightenment media campaigns geared towards educating the general public on the best measures and practices to adopt in order to ensure that they stay safe from the virus and curtail its spread. Furthermore, it's important to note that no vaccine is available yet to provide immunity against Lassa virus. Hence, the only option now is to limit your exposure to infected humans as well as rodents which have been identified as the natural reservoir of the virus.
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Highlighted below are some ways to keep yourself safe from Lassa virus

1. Keep foodstuffs in rodent-proof containers

It's been discovered that multimammate (Mastomys) rats that get infected with Lassa virus never become ill. Rather, they shed the virus in their urine and faeces which can easily contaminate exposed foodstuffs in the house. Hence, it is advised that you keep your foodstuffs safe in rodent-proof containers. Also, if you suspect any foodstuff has been contaminated by rat secretions, promptly discard it safely.

2. Make use of rodent traps

The widespread distribution of the Mastomys rats in West Africa makes it rather difficult, if not impossible to completely eliminate them. However, we can significantly reduce rodent populations within and around our homes by making use of traps.

3. Practise good hygiene

The importance of good hygienic practices in keeping Lassa fever at bay cannot be overemphasized. Ensure that you wash your hands as well as household utensils regularly with soap and water to kill the virus just in case it has contaminated any of the surfaces. Ensure that you always keep your house clean and tidy. Plus, you need to make sure you wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.

4. Properly dispose of household wastes

Household garbage constitutes a veritable breeding ground for rats because it's a very good and consistent food source for them. Hence, if you carelessly dispose of refuse and other wastes near your house, it is an open invitation to rodents and by implication, Lassa virus.

5. Practise strict barrier nursing

This applies to families and close contacts of infected persons as well as healthcare givers who are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of sick Lassa victims. They need to apply extra infection control measures such as the use of hand gloves, face masks, goggles and long-sleeved gowns to prevent contact with blood or other body fluids of infected patients. In the same vein, samples obtained from such patients must only be processed by trained staff in suitably equipped laboratories.

6. Promptly report any suspected case

Once you notice anyone around you with symptoms of Lassa fever like prolonged fever lasting more than 2 days, cough, sore throat, chest, back or abdominal pain, vomiting, facial swelling and bleeding from the nose, mouth or ears, promptly take them to the nearest hospital from where they can be referred to tertiary centres if a diagnosis of Lassa fever is suspected. As soon as any case of Lassa fever is confirmed, the appropriate authorities must be notified and preceding contacts of such a person must be located and quarantined for the incubation period of the virus (about 3 weeks).

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