Three medical personnel at the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki in Ebonyi State have been killed by Lassa fever.
Confirming the incident, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Daniel Umezuruike, said two of the dead patients were medical doctors while the third person was a nurse.
He revealed that the index patient who was treated by one of the doctors and nurse survived and had been discharged.
Umezuruike said the cause of the death of one of the doctors has not been confirmed to be Lassa fever as he had mobidity of diabetes.
The commissioner further said the victims presented late because they were self-medicating when the symptoms started showing.
He said: “Early last week there were suspected cases of Lassa, and yesterday my attention was drawn to it that a doctor died of suspected Lassa. We sent 12 samples and four came out positive.
“One was self-medicating, he went to Mater Hospital in Afikpo. Two doctors he saw later advised him to go back to FETHA, he refused until it was advanced before he came to the hospital.
“For the second doctor, Umezuruike said because he has mobidity of diabetes, his death has not yet been confirmed to be caused by Lassa fever.”
Umezuruike debunked reports that the victims were taken to Irrua Specialist Hospital in Edo State for treatment instead of the Virology Centre built by the Ebonyi State Government in Abakaliki.
“He was treated at FETHA. We built and donated the Virology Centre to FETHA. The second case treated a woman who was bleeding after undergoing local ovuloctomy and he was treated by the doctor to arrest the bleeding on December 29, 2017. They didn’t present her to the hospital on time,” he added
He said the ministry had commenced contact tracing in order to monitor anyone who came in contact with the patients to ensure that no further deaths are recorded.
Meanwhile, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has confirmed fresh outbreak of Lassa Fever in the state.
The Chief Executive Officer of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, in a statement yesterday, said the centre was last Sunday notified of the four victimes of Lassa fever among health care workers in the South-east state.
According to Ihekweazu, three of the four victims have subsequently passed away.
He noted that NCDC was already acting on the directive of the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, for immediate provision of support to the state government, to investigate and respond to this cluster of cases.
Following the report, he said the Ministry of Health through the Nigeria Centre for
Disease Control, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) immediately commenced the public health response supporting the Ebonyi State Ministry of Health.
He said: “A Rapid Response Team has been immediately deployed from NCDC to support the state in response coordination, contact tracing, case management and strengthening infection prevention and control (IPC) procedures. The NCDC has also provided urgently required medical supplies and drugs to support case management in the state.
“Lassa fever is a viral hemorrhagic disease, caused by contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces. The Lassa virus may also be spread between humans through direct contact with blood, urine, faeces, or other bodily secretions of a person infected with Lassa fever.”
Ihekweazu noted that “health care workers in health facilities are particularly at risk of contracting the disease, especially where infection prevention and control (IPC) procedures are not strictly adhered to. We therefore strongly advise that health care workers practice universal care precautions while handling patients at all times, not just when Lassa fever is suspected.
“We commiserate with the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki (FETHA) and Ebonyi State Government, and will support them to avert a future occurrence.
“Although there is no vaccine currently available for Lassa fever, the disease can be prevented.”
NCDC boss urged members of the public to keep their environments clean in order to discourage rats from entering homes.
He further advised that food stuff should be stored in rodent-proof containers, garbage should be disposed properly and far from the home, and hand washing should be practiced frequently.
Ihekweazu also reminded the health care workers that Lassa fever presents, initially like any other disease, causing a febrile illness such as malaria; and are advised to practice universal care precautions at all times.
According to him, Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) must be applied to all suspected cases of malaria.
He stated that when the RDT is negative, other causes of febrile illness, including Lassa fever, should be considered.
Ihekweazu further advised that extra caution should be taken by family members who are providing care for patients with Lassa fever.
In addition, he said states are encouraged to ensure safe burial practices for patients who die from Lassa fever
He also noted that national guidelines for Infection Prevention and Control, as well as Lassa fever case management have been developed, disseminated to states and are available on the NCDC website for download.
NCDC CEO promised that NCDC remains committed to supporting all states’ public health teams to prevent and respond to public health threats.
However, irked by the resurgence of Lassa fever in the South-east zone, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Enugu State chapter, yesterday inaugurated a 22-member committee to sensitise the public and prepare health workers to be at alert. There were reports of the resurgence of the disease in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital, over the weekend. Already, it has recorded casualties.
Chairman of the state NMA, Dr. Cajetan Onyedum, said the move was necessary to sensitise residents of the state as well as health workers to be at alert.
“We got official information yesterday on the death of two of our colleagues following confirmed outbreak of Lassa fever in state. This morning a nurse also died as a result of the same disease while another colleague is in critical condition.
“We thought it would be wise to set up this committee due to the proximity between Enugu and Ebonyi States in order to check the incidences here,” he said.
Onyedum said membership of the committee was drawn from key institutions in the state, adding that the committee would embark on sensitisation campaigns across the state.
According to him, the proactive move would see them visit all primary, secondary and tertiary health facilities in the state as well as rural communities.
“The reason for this is because when the disease strikes, it does not choose destination or whom to attack,” Onyedum said.
The Chairman of the committee, Dr. Uche Unigwe, said Nigerians could no longer be in denial of cases of Lassa fever.
Unigwe, an expert in infectious diseases, said it was unfortunate that the disease had spread from the initial six states to over 20 in the country.
He said medical workers needed to be more sensitive and at alert in identifying such cases, adding that “this is an indigenous disease named after a community in the country and we should do everything possible to contain it.
“The most important thing is to develop a high index of suspicion so that medical workers can easily identify Lassa fever when they look at patients and protect themselves.”
He said that the committee would embark on aggressive sensitisation of residents, adding that everything needed to be done to reduce mortality as a result of the disease.
Unigwe said medical doctors in the state have the capacity to handle the disease if reported in time, and cautioned Nigerians to be more careful in handling food items. He appealed to Nigerians to maintain a clean environment and ensure that rodents, which are the primary carriers of the disease, did not get in contact with their food items.
The Chairman, Infection and Disease Control Committee, Enugu State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Miriam Chidobem- Ajuba, said funds were required to check and contain the disease.
Chidobem-Ajuba said the cheering news was that the state government had upgraded facilities at health institutions.
She said the Emergency Response Team of the state Ministry of Health had also been strengthened in case of unforeseen circumstances.
“The state government has upgraded the Isolation Ward at the Colliarey Hospital,” Chidobem-Ajuba added.