Reflections On Lassa Fever —Isaac Asabor



There was a time when some educated and seemingly enlightened Nigerians would dismiss the issue of Lassa Fever with a mere wave of the hand. There was equally a time when many of us were absolutely reluctant to admit the unprecedented scale of the pandemic. So also, there was a time we frivolously laughed when we read a newspaper, watched the TV news or listened to a radio news on Lassa Fever. According to the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.”

But alas! This is the time to literarily weep given the current happenings coupled with some sad reports of the statistical facts from various health experts and institutions. As a research-minded writer, I visited a health-oriented website, The information I got on Lassa Fever from this health site was quite frightening.

The sight made me to understand that fever, chills, rigours, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, tinnitus, epistaxis, back pain, sore throat, facial swelling, abdominal pain, eye inflammation, restroternal pain and general weaknesses are all symptoms of Lassa Fever.

The website disclosed that the symptoms of Lassa Fever are varied and non-specific. It also disclosed that the first symptoms of the disease typically occur in between 1-3 weeks after the patient comes into contact with the virus. The most common long term complication of Lassa Fever is deafness.

Given the stark reality of Lassa Fever, one can conclude that it is no more a neocolonial instrument of propaganda, as we were wont to suggest whenever the nation is faced with a dreaded disease. We had that line of erroneous thinking when we initially became aware of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 80s. But today our eyes are opened to the stark reality of the dreaded disease.

As various health institutions and experts have exhaustively warned, the main cause of Lassa Fever is by coming in contact with a rat that has been infected with the virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) described the strange fever as an “acute viral fever that induces haemorrhage.” In other words, it can also be referred to as “Haemorrhagic fever.”

Contrary to general belief, Lassa Fever is not an exclusive disease of the dirty poor. It is also an ailment of the unhygienic rich. The disease can occur in all age groups that cut across both genders.

According to experts, the disease is usually spread or contracted when rats infected with Lassa Fever virus drop their excreta or urine on utensils. Therefore, it behoves those who manage culinary utensils in various homes to start maintaining a good personal and environmental hygiene.

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Our attitude to good hygiene should not be limited to only the last Saturday of the month. Foodstuffs like garri, rice, beans among others should be stored away from the reach of rats or rodents generally. We can on our own be educating our children on the need to imbibe the culture of cleanliness, and also ensuring they wash their hands before eating. Cats can be kept as pets to scare away rats while those who may not be comfortable with cats as pets can resort to placing rat gums at strategic places in the kitchen, bathroom and other parts of the apartment. Knowingly or unknowingly creating a habitat for rats should be avoided by keeping our apartments tidy.

Also, people should be extremely meticulous on how they buy foods from roadside vendors particularly while at work, and as well be circumspect of the market environment they buy foodstuffs from. Most important of all, uncooked foods should be thoroughly washed before they are processed as meals for the family. While these tips are being outlined in this piece is that the remedy for Lassa fever goes beyond the potencies of “Over The Counter” drugs (OTC drugs) and local herbs popularly called agbo in the western part of the country. It is a disease that compels one to see a specialist doctor.

Now that the reality of Lassa fever is being acknowledged, it would be expedient that the campaign be done through and by public relations strategies. The campaign should not be directed at only a segment of the society. It should be directed to all Nigerians. The campaigners should employ the appropriate languages which everyone can understand. Most importantly, non-governmental organisations should begin to support the federal and state governments’ efforts on how the pandemic of Lassa Fever can be confronted and controlled. Personally, it would be nice if the people in the rural areas could be reached in order to create awareness about Lassa Fever. In this case, mother tongues can be used as the vehicles of communication. Also, health workers at local government level all over the country can resort to organising town hall meetings for those in the rural areas as long as the campaign lasts.

The issue of the outbreak of Lassa Fever should not be treated with a kid-glove approach. If possible, the government can use what this writer may contextually call sledge-hammer approach. Simply put, the disease should be tackled with all seriousness.

Lagosians can be described as lucky compared to those in other states. This is because the state Ministry of Health through its Directorate of Disease Control is not leaving anything to chance to ensure that there is no outbreak of the deadly disease in Lagos state.

Finally, I am using this article to urge the Governor of Lagos state, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, not to rest on his oars as regards the issue of Lassa Fever as the whole Lagosians are looking up to him in ensuring that the disease is not allowed to break into Lagos.

•Asabor wrote from Lagos

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