Lassa fever in West Africa
Updated: March 13, 2018
- Information updated regarding Lassa fever in Nigeria.
- Ghana was added to the list of countries reporting cases.
What is Lassa fever?
Lassa fever is a viral haemorrhagic illness caused by the Lassa virus. Lassa virus is most commonly spread through the urine and feces of infected rats.
- direct contact with rat urine or feces
- touching objects soiled with urine or feces
- exposure of open cuts or sores
- eating contaminated food
- breathing in air with infected dust or dirt. This can happen during cleaning activities like sweeping and dusting.
Lassa virus may also be spread between humans through direct contact with the blood, tissue, urine, feces or other bodily fluids of a person infected with Lassa fever.
Symptoms of Lassa fever are usually gradual and include:
- general weakness
- sore throat
- chest and muscle pain
- nausea and vomiting
The disease can progress with symptoms of:
- facial swelling
- respiratory distress
- bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract
There is no vaccine or medication that protects against Lassa fever.
Where is Lassa fever a concern?
Lassa fever is a known risk in West Africa. It occurs in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo and other West African countries.
Nigeria is currently experiencing an outbreak of Lassa fever. Over 1 000 suspected cases and 90 deaths have been reported in 2018. Cases have been reported in 18 of 36 states. Cases related to this outbreak have been reported in Benin.
In 2017 and 2018, the World Health Organization has confirmed cases and/or outbreaks of Lassa fever in:
- Burkina Faso
- Sierra Leone
At greatest risk are those who:
- Live or work in areas with a risk of Lassa fever and have been exposed to rats
- Provide care for patients in a community where the illness is present
How can you protect yourself from Lassa fever?
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic at least six weeks before you travel.
- Avoid contact with rats (rodents), especially rat urine and feces.
- Store food in rodent-proof containers.
- Dispose of garbage far from your living quarters.
- Maintain clean living quarters.
- Do not eat rats.
- Ensure that food is well cooked.
If cleaning areas contaminated by infected rat urine and/or feces, properly clean and disinfect areas using the steps below:
- Wear rubber or plastic gloves. While cleaning rat urine and/or feces, , wear a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered respirator.
- Do not sweep or vacuum rodent droppings. This will release particles into the air, which you could then breathe in.
- Spray droppings with an appropriately diluted household disinfectant or a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Follow the directions on the label of the household disinfectant to ensure proper dilution. Let the area soak for 10 minutes to make sure any virus within the droppings will be killed.
- Wipe up wet droppings with paper towels or a wet mop if dealing with a large area.
- Wash gloves in disinfectant and hot soapy water before taking them off. Afterwards, wash your hands thoroughly.
- If a wet mop was used to clean the area, use disinfectant and hot soapy water to clean the mop.
- Protect yourself from the spread of germs:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
- Keep your hands away from your face.
- Do not share eating or drinking utensils.
- Clean surfaces that are frequently touched (for example: doorknobs and counters).
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Health care workers should follow strict infection control measures. This includes wearing all necessary personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, gowns, and face shields when caring for patients with suspected or confirmed Lassa fever.
- Monitor your health
- If you develop symptoms of Lassa fever when you are travelling or after you return, see a health care provider. Tell them where you have been travelling or living.
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