Cases of a rare viral hemorrhagic disease called Lassa fever have been drastically increasing in Nigeria. This disease kills between twenty and thirty percent of those infected and has no treatment or vaccine. Three of the eight health care workers infected did not survive. This disease is borne by rodents and is effecting several West African countries. In the past this disease was considered rare but there have been 353 confirmed cases in 18 states. There are 700 cases suspected and 110 people have died. The disease is difficult to diagnose and often goes unreported.
The health care system in Nigeria is overwhelmed. The only fever ward is restricted to 24 beds. The lack of proper training has caused 16 health care workers to become infected. The government is work to establish isolation wards, supply health workers with protective gear and determine the cause of the outbreak. Lassa fever was added to pathogens with the potential for an epidemic and research is ongoing. For additional details please visit http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/03/health-workers-scramble-contain-deadly-rat-borne-fever-nigeria.
Two missionary nurses died from an unknown disease in Nigeria in 1969. These were the first known cases of Lassa fever. The virus was isolated when a third nurse was infected and rushed to a New York City hospital. A pathogen borne by rodents called arenavirus has been isolated as the cause. The disease is contracted when the droppings and urine of rodents searching for food come in contact with people. This can be caused by touching a contaminated surface, ingesting contaminated food or through the bodily fluids of an infected individual.
The initial symptoms are often mistaken for typhoid fever or malaria. This includes sore throat, body aches, fever, diarrhea and nausea. The disease can progress to shock, organ failure, internal hemorrhaging and death. By the time the disease is diagnosed it can be too late to save the person’s life. Only three labs located in Nigeria have the equipment to accurately diagnose this disease.
The only current treatment is an antiviral drug called ribavirin. It must be given within the first six days of the disease to help the patient. The problems is it is rare for a patient to arrive this early. There are other drugs possible in the future. The government is placing their focus on properly training the health care workers. They are additionally ensuring the basics are being supplied to control the infection and educate the public.