By Katurak Yashim
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that with declining numbers and only a handful of confirmed cases reported in recent weeks, the critical phase of Nigeria’s largest Lassa fever outbreak is under control.
According to a statement issued by WHO’s Communication Officer, Ms Charity Warigon in Abuja on Friday, continued vigilance is, however, needed as the country is still Lassa fever endemic.
She said that 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 that the numbers had dropped below levels considered to be of national emergency when compared with data from previous outbreaks.
Warigon said that 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 Federal Government its continuous support in maintaining intensified response to the outbreak.
“WHO continues to help states that have reported new cases by strengthening their capacity to conduct disease surveillance, treat patients, implement infection prevention and control measures, laboratory diagnostics and engaging with communities.
“Communities are encouraged to remain vigilant and report any rumour to the nearest health facility because early diagnosis and treatment can save lives.
“Thirty-seven health workers have been infected with Lassa fever and eight have died.
“This highlights the need to implement standard infection prevention and control precautions with all patients regardless of their diagnosis.
“Health workers are urged to maintain a high index of suspicion for Lassa fever when handling patients with fever, headache, sore throat and general body weakness, especially when malaria has been ruled out with a Rapid Diagnostic Test.”
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 News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that 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.