Nigeria ends emergency phase of Lassa fever outbreak


The Nigerian government on Friday announced the end of the emergency phase of Lassa fever outbreak.

“The end of the outbreak does not mean we will no longer record cases of Lassa fever. Given the epidemiology of the disease in Nigeria, there will still be reports of cases,” Minister of Health Isaac Adewole told reporters in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

Since the beginning of January 2018 the country has experienced the largest Lassa fever outbreak in history, he added, stressing that although the threat was minimized, it does not mean that the fight was over.

“In May 2018, 423 confirmed cases of Lassa fever were recorded with a total of 106 deaths,” the minister said.

According to him, the Lassa fever outbreak provided an opportunity for Nigeria to review and strengthen the public health system across disease preparedness, detection, surveillance and response.
“However, we are now better prepared and have a stronger response architecture,” he said.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the critical phase of Nigeria’s largest Lassa fever outbreak is under control, with declining numbers and only a handful of confirmed cases reported in recent weeks.

Continued vigilance is, however, needed as the country is still Lassa fever endemic, the WHO said in a statement issued by Charity Warigon, the organization’s media person.

She said this year, 423 confirmed cases, including 106 deaths, had been reported but that national case numbers had consistently declined in the past six weeks.

The spokeswoman said the numbers had dropped below levels considered to be of national emergency when compared with data from previous outbreaks.

Warigon said in the week ending May 6, only three new confirmed cases of Lassa fever were reported, stating that people could still be infected throughout the year hence the need for continued vigilance.

The UN agency congratulated Nigeria for reaching a milestone in the fight against Lassa fever but urged the country not to let its foot off the pedal.

It assured the Nigerian government its continuous support in maintaining intensified response to the outbreak.

The world body also urged health workers to adhere to standard precautions by wearing protective equipment like gloves, face masks, face shields and aprons when handling suspected Lassa fever patients.

The WHO in its Emergency Report issued in April stated that in March less than 20 cases were reported each week while only five new cases were reported in the week ending April 15.

These figures, according to WHO compare with earlier reports issued in January, the beginning of the outbreak, to Feb. 18, when the number of weekly reported Lassa fever cases increased from 10 to 70.
Humans usually become infected with the Lassa virus from exposure to urine or feces of infected multimammate rats.

Other than common preventive measures such as washing hands regularly, the World Health Organization has also recommended keeping cats.

by Bosun Awoniyi

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