By Ayodamola Owoseye
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has declared the emergency phase of the Lassa fever outbreak ravaging the country over.
This is after four and a half months of the country combating the disease in 21 states, leading to 129 deaths.
The announcement was made in a press statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Friday.
The statement was co-signed by the Director General, NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, and the Officer-in-Charge, World Health Organisation, Nigeria, (WHO) Clement Peter.
The ’emergency phase’ of the 2019 Lassa fever outbreak was declared over following a joint epidemiological review by NCDC, WHO Nigeria and other partners.
Due to increased report of cases of the disease in some states across the country, NCDC earlier this year (January 22) declared a Lassa fever emergency in Nigeria.
The agency had activated a national Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate response activities in the face of rising Lassa fever cases across the country. This was done by NCDC, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Environment (FMEnv) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).
Mr Ihekweazu said following a robust response, the Lassa fever case count has significantly declined in the past seven weeks and has now dropped below levels considered to be a national emergency.
“This year, there was also a decline in case fatality rate of Lassa fever, from 27 per cent in 2018 to 22 per cent in 2019,” he said.
Between January and May, 26,578 confirmed cases of Lassa fever were reported, causing 129 deaths from 21 states.
These figures are lower than what was recorded as at 2018 when the outbreak was declared over.
In 2018, between January and May, (week 21) when the emergency response was declared over, 1968 suspected Lassa fever cases with 431 laboratory confirmed cases and 158 deaths were reported from 141 LGAs from 29 states.
Lassa fever outbreak has become a yearly occurence in Nigeria. Lassa fever is a hemorrhagic fever caused by the lassa virus host in rats.
In Nigeria, the disease occurs all year round, but peaks between January and April.
During the 2019 outbreak, 18 healthcare workers were infected in eight states – Edo – 7, Ondo – 3, Ebonyi – 2, Enugu – 1, Rivers – 1, Bauchi -1, Benue – 1, Plateau – 1 and Kebbi -1 – with two deaths in Enugu and Edo states.
Twenty one States: Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Plateau, Taraba, FCT, Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna, Kwara, Benue, Rivers, Kogi, Enugu, Imo, Delta, Oyo, Kebbi and Cross River hrecorded at least one confirmed case across 82 local government areas.
Also, 93 per cent of all confirmed cases are from Edo – (36 per cent), Ondo (29 per cent), Ebonyi (8 per cent), Bauchi (7 per cent), Taraba (7 per cent) and Plateau (6 per cent).
According to NCDC, the predominant age-group affected is 21-40 years (Range: >1 month to 89 years, Median Age: 32 years) and the male to female ratio for confirmed cases is 1.2:1.
Not yet over
Mr Ihekweazu said “given that Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria, it is likely that the country will continue to record cases of Lassa fever.”
He said despite the end of the emergency phase of this outbreak, “NCDC expects that sporadic cases may continue to be reported in endemic areas/hotspots.”
He added that the agency will now coordinate preparedness and response activities through a multi-sectoral Lassa fever Technical Working Group.
NCDC will continue to improve its knowledge, preparedness and response to Lassa fever outbreaks, he added.
“The group’s focus is to continue monitoring cases, as well as improve disease prevention, surveillance, diagnosis and response activities across all levels in Nigeria.
“However, we have several research strategies to improve our knowledge of the disease. We are also working with states and partners to establish more long-term strategies such as improved risk communication, infection prevention and control, regular environmental sanitation, enhanced capacity of health workers and improvement of treatment centres among others.”
Also, Mr Peter added that “WHO remains committed to working with the Government of Nigeria and other partners to sustain and improve Nigeria’s capacity to detect, prepare for and respond to Lassa fever outbreaks including implementing a Lassa fever research plan and other control strategies.”