By Kingsley Obiejesi
Borno State government has confirmed an outbreak of Lassa fever in a community housing several internally displaced persons.
The commissioner for health, Haruna Mshelia, in an emergency press conference in Maiduguri, the state capital on Wednesday, said a 32-year old lady from Zabarmari, a village on the outskirts of the town in Jere local government area, had the disease after results from her samples came back positive.
Haruna said there had been suspicion when the woman was admitted on 20 February at the Umaru Shehu Hospital with symptoms associated with Lassa fever, as she had fever, body weakness, lack of blood and bled from three places, including her nose and anus.
“Luckily, at presentation, we treated her as if she had the disease and the treatment instituted has worked and she has stopped bleeding. However, we are still keeping her to recuperate very well,” the commissioner told journalists, adding that a day after she was admitted, her samples were taken to Lagos for testing, with the results coming back positive eight days later.
Lassa fever, which was first discovered in the Borno town of Lassa in Askira Uba local government area in 1969, affected 284 people and killed about 154 in 24 states between August 2015 and September 2016. Luckily, Borno state, with hundreds of thousands of IDPs living in squalid conditions, was not affected.
This latest outbreak, however, is a source of concern and the state said it has taken every necessary step to contain it.
“We have been to Zabarmari to trace her relations with whom she had been in contact. So far, we are in contact with 23 of them and are following them up. They are all healthy but the disease takes between two to 21 days to develop, so we will not stop following them up until this period passes. Wherever she went to during the time she felt ill, we have traced her steps and whoever she came in contact with, we have traced and are following them up,” Haruna said, adding that an incident management team made up of the state Ministry of Health, Federal Government, Centre for Disease Control, nongovernmental organisations, and the state environmental agency, had been set up to manage the situation.
Some rats in Zabarmari were expected to be caught on Wednesday for observation while the area is expected to be fumigated today.
While the government did not mention the places the infected woman had been to, a ministry of health official disclosed to the ICIR on condition of anonymity that she had lived in one of the IDPs camps with her brother.
The commissioner pointed out that since the disease was first discovered in the state more than 40 years ago, there had not been another case in the state. However, the source said this is also not true.
“The honourable commissioner did not want to send people into a panic, which is a sensible thing to do considering the crisis we are in, but I know that within the last five years, we have had four or five laboratorial confirmation of Lassa in Borno state,” he pointed out, adding that that was the reason why the state stockpiled treatment drugs for more than one year.
The health commissioner had told reporters that the state stored some drugs since last year, which it used in treating this latest case while waiting for her test results.
Haruna said the disease is highly contagious but also added that it can also be transmitted through body fluid.
“Simply talking to the person or living in the same room will not infect one with the disease. It is not spread by droplets that you breathe in. It is only spread by body fluids like blood, saliva, urine, faeces or contaminated needles,” he said.