After three hours of undergoing surgical operation at the Intensive care unit of University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Edo State, a man has died of Lassa fever. The deceased was admitted to the hospital after complaining of appendicitis, a few weeks after his mother who lost her life to the Lassa fever virus, was buried.

Confirming the incident on Tuesday, the Chief Medical Director of UBTH, Prof. Michael Ibadin, said the hospital management had maintained professionalism in handling the case. Ibadin said, “All the persons, who were involved in providing care for the victim, have been taken care of, according to standard and as determined by international best practices. There is no cause for alarm as the hospital continues to provide services to the public in a very safe environment. The victim, an adult male patient, who was visiting from his base abroad, had a typical presentation of abdominal pain. The history of the fever was not volunteered initially. Lassa fever was suspected when, following the surgery, he had uncontrolled bleeding. He has since passed on.”

Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness of 1-4 weeks duration that occurs in West Africa. The Lassa virus is transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces. Person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in hospitals lacking adequate infection prevent and control measures. Lassa fever is known to be endemic in Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, but probably exists in other West African countries as well. Early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival.

The World Health Organization recently stated that Lassa fever has killed more than 160 people in West Africa, most of them in Nigeria, since November 2015. Nigeria according to their report, accounts for the majority of the cases with 266 cases and 138 deaths reported in 22 of the country’s 36 states as of March 21, 2016. Many of these lives could have been saved if a rapid diagnostic test were available so that people could receive treatment early.

The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said the Federal Government would establish Lassa fever laboratories in disease-prone areas in the country. He said, “We lost about 60 per cent of those that were diagnosed with Lassa fever because of the challenge of early detection. For instance, the village where the virus broke out in Niger State did not have a functional health centre. The samples had to be taken to the virology laboratory in Edo State for confirmatory test. That process does not encourage rapid diagnosis and treatment. But, with more laboratories in the hot spots, patients can be detected and treated as soon as they are confirmed to be positive.”

Author: Ope Adedeji