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Nigeria Facing ‘Unprecedented’ Lassa Fever Outbreak

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control announced that at least 78 people have died and 353 have been infected in an “unprecedented” Lassa fever outbreak in the country.

There are 766 more suspected cases, and 3,126 contacts have been identified, now under close monitoring, CNN reports. Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease that is endemic to most of West Africa, specifically Nigeria. The illness was discovered in 1969. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can include bleeding in the eyes, gums and nose.

Lassa fever is transmitted to humans by contact with food or items infected by rats, or through contact with the body fluids of a person carrying the virus, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The disease is deadly in 1% of all people it infects, on average, with a higher rate of 15% mortality for those who are hospitalized. An NCDC report on March 4 mentioned that the case fatality ratio in this latest outbreak in Nigeria is 23.8%.

Among those who contracted Lassa fever ere sixteen health workers, four of whom died within eight weeks of the outbreak. The disease has spread to 18 states since it started in January, alarming national health authorities.

The NCDC said that it is currently working with Médecins Sans Frontières and the Alliance for International Medical Action to address Lassa fever cases in Ondo, Edo and Anambra states. Many of the cases were managed by patients themselves and were not tested when symptoms first appeared, since people thought they had malaria – another disease endemic to Nigeria, whose symptoms are close to those of Lassa fever.

Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the NCDC, said that those who show signs of a fever should “go to a health care facility in order to get a test that will determine the cause of the fever,” before receiving or taking medications.

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