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WHO supports five countries to fight Lassa Fever outbreaks

Bukola Afeni

The World Health Organization has scaled up its efforts to support five countries in West African Africa reporting Lassa Fever outbreak.
The Regional Emergencies Director at WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Ibrahima
Socé Fall, said the body is working with the health authorities in the five-affected countries to ensure health workers have the capacity to detect cases .
In Nigeria, the largest outbreak thus far has affected 16 states in Nigeria. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) declared an outbreak of Lassa fever on 22 January 2019.
“With more than 200 confirmed cases to date, including 42 deaths.
It marked a significant increase, already a third of the total cases for all of last year, when Nigeria experienced its worst outbreak of Lassa fever. Four health workers have been infected so far in this latest outbreak.”
The World Health Organization hinted that it is scaling up its efforts to support the Federal authorities, NCDC and the affected Nigerian states in responding to the outbreak.
“An important focus is on early detection and confirmation of suspected cases, providing optimal supportive care and ensuring infection prevention and control measures in designated health care facilities in the affected states. WHO has intensified its technical assistance and is supporting coordination, enhanced surveillance, epidemiological analysis and risk communication. We are also mobilizing experts to support case management and infection prevention and control.”
The global health body further noted that a total of 12 cases have been confirmed to date in Benin, Guinea, Liberia and Togo, including two deaths, with more suspected cases being investigated.
“WHO is assisting health authorities in these countries with contact tracing and providing medical and non-medical supplies and technical and financial resources as needed for case management, risk communication and logistics.
We are concerned by the high number of cases so early in the Lassa fever season, which is expected to last another four more months,”

WHO has set up a regional coordination mechanism for countries to report any suspected case of Lassa fever to expedite the flow of timely information and to assess the situation, recommend actions and help organize assistance.
“The global health body has also reached out to the six other at-risk countries – Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Sierra Leone – and is supporting prevention and readiness activities as needed”

Fall also called on all countries in the Lassa fever belt to enhance their preparedness and response capacities, especially for early case detection, laboratory confirmation, case management under recommended barrier nursing, risk communication and community engagement”.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness that occurs predominantly in West Africa, after human exposure to the urine or faeces of infected Mastomys rats. More than 80% of Lassa fever cases are rodent-to-human transmission. Person-to-person transmission occurs in both community and health-care settings.

Prevention of Lassa fever relies on promoting good “community hygiene” to discourage rodents from entering homes by storing grain and other foodstuffs in rodent-proof containers, disposing of garbage far from the home, maintaining clean households, keeping cats and the safe handling of anyone who may have died of the disease. In health-care settings, health-care workers should always apply standard infection prevention and control precautions when caring for a sick person.

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