Nigeria battles largest Lassa fever outbreak with death toll reaching 72

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Nigeria’s Lassa fever outbreak has reached a record high, resulting in 72 deaths and 317 laboratory-confirmed cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.

The acute viral hemorrhagic fever has been reported in 18 states since the first case was detected on Jan. 1. Three southern states, Edo, Ondo, and Ebonyi, have been the most affected, reporting 85 percent of the cases, WHO said, quoting the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC).

It also said over 2,800 people who have come into contact with patients have been identified and are being monitored. The number of cases confirmed by the NCDC as of Feb. 25 crossed the total number of cases in 2017.

The NCDC is running its Emergency Operations Center at the highest possible level, primarily focusing all available resources on controlling the outbreak.

Humans usually become infected with the Lassa virus from exposure to urine or feces of infected mastomys rats. Other than common preventive measures such as washing hands regularly, WHO is also recommending keeping cats.

The NCDC is asking Nigerians to prevent rats from getting to their foodstuff.

Lassa fever is endemic to several West African countries. Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone also reported cases in the past month.

Wondimagegnehu Alemu, WHO representative to Nigeria, said rapid detection of infection and early treatment improve patients’ chances of survival.

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