Lassa Fever: Before You Eat That Rat

Lassa is a beautiful agrarian town in Askira/Uba local government area of Borno state,Nigeria. This town has also produced men and women in other notable fields of human endeavour. The well known epidemiologist,Dr Ibrahim Mamadu is from Lassa town. A hasty mistake in the naming of a virus following the death in 1969 of Laura Wine,a missionary nurse from the USA to Lassa town meant that this beautiful town would almost forever be associated with a killer virus-Lassa hemorrhagic virus(LHV).

The first six results of a google search of ‘Lassa town’ are all about Lassa fever. Such is the level of damage that has been done to the town. Some prominent people from this town tried without success to have the name of the virus changed.

Lassa fever occurs mostly in the West African countries of Nigeria,Liberia,Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Lassa fever is a type of viral hemorrhagic fever(An abnormally high body temperature that affects the blood’s ability to clot) caused by the lassa virus. The other hemorrhagic fevers are Ebola,dengue,yellow fever and marburg.

The organism that transmits the virus is an infected “multimammate rat”(Mastomys natalensis).These rats have 12 instead of the usual 5 or 6 breasts on each side.

Humans get the lassa virus when they ingest or consume infected rats or foods contaminated by the infected rats urine or droppings. One common such food is ”Garri, a West African staple food made from cassava. There has been person-to-person transmissions especially among healthcare workers caring for infected individuals.

The incubation period of lassa fever disease(the time from when a person comes in contact with lassa virus to the time the signs and symptoms starts manifesting) is 1 to 3 weeks. The symptoms are fever,sore throat,chest pain,cough,malaise(a feeling of being sick or discomfort),and headache. In serious cases bleeding occurs from the gums,eyes,vagina and nose. Shock and deaths can occur if care is not given immediately. One of the aftermaths is deafness.

Lassa fever can be prevented by avoiding all forms of contact with multimammate rats. Rat pepper soups and foods from questionable sources should not be consumed. Food items should also be stored away in rat-proof containers.

Self medications should not be attempted ,all lassa fever-related symptoms should be reported to the nearest hospital.

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