Fever brings to mind ‘malaria’ for most health workers often resulting in dangerous nmis-diagnoses. Not all fevers are alike, and when health workers do not practice infection procedures in examining a febrile patient, they put themselves, their families and all people at their clinic at risk.
Witness the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone where health workers disproportionately died. And just as happened with Ebola, the Guardian reported that, “A medical doctor in Rivers State has been confirmed dead after being diagnosed of See WHO’s Lassa fever fact sheetin the state’s apex hospital, the Brewaithe Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMH), Port Harcourt.”
As of 9th January the death toll rose to 35 with 81 cases. The Guardian Newspaper noted that “Non-Specific Symptoms Of Ailment Threaten Interruption Efforts, ” and that at the rate the current Lassa Fever outbreak is ravaging in the country, the federal government may soon have no option but to declare an emergency to hasten containment.”
By January 16th the number of deaths had risen to 44 as reported by MENAFN.com. They also explained that Lassa is “transmitted through the faeces, urine and blood of rats (and subsequently) human bodily fluids,” of those infected via rats. Rats closely inhabit spaces with humans, while fruit bats that carry Ebola are more confined to forests (which unfortunately have been pushed back through human activity).
Lassa is endemic in Nigeria and West Africa across to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea where some suspected the initial Ebola cases might have been Lassa. The first cases were CDC: documented in Nigeria in 1969, and as the AllAfrica.Com, Guardian: Ministry of Health noted, “Lassa fever which has over the years registered its presence in the country, supposed not to have taken us by surprise.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/CDC provides the following useful information showing that while infectious, Lassa may not be as dangerous as Ebola:
- “Signs and symptoms of Lassa fever typically occur 1-3 weeks after the patient comes into contact with the virus. For the majority of Lassa fever virus infections (approximately 80%), symptoms are mild and are undiagnosed. Mild symptoms include slight fever, general malaise and weakness, and headache. In 20% of infected individuals, however, disease may progress to more serious symptoms including hemorrhaging (in gums, eyes, or nose, as examples), respiratory distress, repeated vomiting, facial swelling, pain in the chest, back, and abdomen, and shock. Neurological problems have also been described, including hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis. Death may occur within two weeks after symptom onset due to multi-organ failure.”
Finally CDC cautions health workers to protect themselves and not assume every fever is malaria. “When caring for patients with Lassa fever, further transmission of the disease through person-to-person contact or nosocomial routes can be avoided by taking preventive precautions against contact with patient secretions (called VHF isolation precautions or barrier nursing methods). Such precautions include wearing protective clothing, such as masks, gloves, gowns, and goggles; using infection control measures, such as complete equipment sterilization; and isolating infected patients from contact with unprotected persons until the disease has run its course.”
While health workers at the front line are encouraged to use malaria Rapid Diagnostic Tests to determine or exclude a diagnosis of malaria, they must remember that RDTs involve blood. Protective materials are always required, even for ‘simple’ malaria. Health systems – public and private – need to ensure health workers have these life saving materials.