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The Rivers Commissioner for Health, Dr. Sampson Parker, told reporters in Port Harcourt yesterday that the acute viral illness is caused by rats and very difficult to diagnose.
He stated that the Rotimi Amaechi administration was determined to provide qualitative healthcare for Rivers people, as indicated by the construction of primary healthcare centres across the 23 LGAs of the state, with 110 now functional and to construct 160 more before the end of this year.
Dr. Parker said doctors and other health personnel were being employed in the newly-built health centres and others, with adequate drugs and other infrastructure provided in Rivers hospitals.
He said: “Rivers state currently has a challenge of Lassa fever. It is real. It is the first time medical notice of the ailment is taken in the state. With one person already dead, it is an epidemic.
“Lassa fever is carried by species of rats with eight breasts, which stay in filthy environment.
“We must ensure personal and environmental hygiene, as well as good waste disposal. All domestic wastes should be covered in bags and disposed off appropriately.
“Rivers people should be vigilant and correct one another, because one person’s mistake can be disastrous. The dead medical staff might have ensured personal hygiene, but her neighbours might not have been very careful.
“Lassa fever is a viral illness. The symptoms are so varied and non-specific. Clinical diagnoses are often difficult. We must discourage self medication. Go to the nearest health facility for examination by health personnel.”
He added that “the rats shed the virus in urine and droppings. The virus is transmitted through direct contact when eating food contaminated with feaces and urine or cuts and sores, when they may have contact with them.
“There is airborne transmission, when a person inhales tiny particles in the air contaminated with rat excretions. Lassa fever is also spread through person to person contact with virus in the blood tissue, secretion or excretion of an infected individual. It is common in villages and healthcare settings and medical equipment.
“A complication of Lassa fever is deafness. Spontaneous abortion is another serious complication. Individuals at risk are those who live or visit areas with high population of rats (Mastomys rodents) infected with Lassa virus or exposed to infected humans.
“Rivers state government has procured all the needed drugs and protective items and equipment, including training and retraining. Health personnel should not entertain fear. Rivers state is sufficiently prepared.
“The Rapid Response Team for Lassa fever will be immediately pushing in rapid diagnostic kits. Rivers state government places emphasis on preventive and not curative health.”
He also stated that the signs and symptoms of Lassa fever typically occur one to three weeks after the patient had come in contact with the virus, including fever, pain behind the chest wall, sore throat, back pain, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, facial swelling and mucosal bleeding, among others.
The minister told journalists yesterday in Abuja that over 397 cases of Lassa fever have so far being reported in Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Ebonyi, Taraba, Yobe, Ondo, Rivers, Gombe, Anambra, Delta and Lagos states.
He however said that out of the 397 cases only 87 were positively confirmed by medical officials.
Pate narrated the case of a 28-year-old female corps member who completed her three weeks orientation in Rivers State but travelled home to visit her family in Afikpo and Abakiliki, capital of Ebonyi State. She contracted the fever on January 1 and died two days later.
Calling on Nigerians not to panic, Pate said that the ministry has also distributed over 750,000 doses of ribavirin injection and tablets as well as safety gloves and protective vests for health workers.
He said that there are nine specialist centers across Nigeria where tests on Lassa fever can be done, adding that adequate quantities of injections and tablets, the specific antiviral drug for Lassa fever, have been released to the affected states.
He said, "Nigeria has the capability to diagnose Lassa fever and all the cases reported so far were confirmed by our laboratories."
About 400 cases have also been reported in Borno, Gombe, Yobe, Taraba, Plateau, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Edo, Ondo, Rivers, Anambra and Lagos states, out of which 87 cases have been confirmed.
The 23-member committee was inaugurated in Abuja by the Minister of State for Health Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate, with Prof. Sunday Aremu Omilabu of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) as chairman.
The minister said government was concerned about the danger of Lassa fever in Nigeria, necessitating the establishment of a stakeholders' forum five years ago for action against the disease.
"It is expected that this committee will come up with a sustainable framework for combating the scourge of Lassa fever to prevent loss of lives of general public and those of the health workers," the minister added.
Responding, Prof. Omilabu assured that the committee would perform diligently, adding that the Federal Ministry of Health should also provide the necessary support for the committee to deliver on its mandate.
- Kunle Emmanuel
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