- Lassa fever is an illness caused by Lassa virus, a single-stranded RNA hemorrhagic fever virus from the family Arenaviridae. It is an acute febrile viral illness lasting one to four weeks, and it occurs in West Africa and some areas beyond.
- Most cases of Lassa fever occur in rural communities where rat populations are high, and hygiene and sanitation conditions are poor.
- Humans can contract the virus if they come into contact with the urine or faeces of infected rodents. Human-to-human transmission is also possible, via via blood, tissue, secretions or excretions, but not through touch. Also sharing needles may spread the virus, and there have been some reports of sexual transmission.
- Lassa fever can also be passed between patients and staff at poorly equipped hospitals where sterilization and protective clothing is not standard.
- Symptoms include: bleeding in the gums, nose, eyes, or elsewhere, difficulty breathing, cough, vomiting and diarrhoea, both with blood, difficulty swallowing, swollen face, pain in the chest, back, and abdomen, hearing loss, which may be permanent, abnormal heart rhythms and seizures.
- In severe cases and without treatment, patients can begin bleeding from the mouth or nose and their lungs can fill with fluid. The symptoms usually develop after 6-21 days of initial transmission contact.
- There is no vaccine to prevent Lassa fever, but symptomatic treatment improves a patient’s chance of survival. The WHO says the antiviral drug Ribavirin has been shown to be an effective treatment if given early on in the course of the illness.
- Prevention is better than cure. You can prevent contacting the virus by regular hand-washing, storing foods in rodent-proof containers, keeping garbage away from the home, keeping pet cats, avoiding blood and other bodily fluids when caring for sick relatives, following safe burial procedures and using protective equipment in a healthcare setting, including masks and eyewear.
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