Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus, a member of the arenavirus family of viruses. It is transmitted to humans from contacts with food or household items contaminated with rodent excreta. The disease is endemic in the rodent population in parts of West Africa.

Person–to–person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in the hospital environment in the absence of adequate infection control measures. Diagnosis and prompt treatment are essential.

Though first described in the 1950s, the virus causing Lassa disease was not identified until 1969. The virus is a single stranded RNA virus belonging to the virus family Arenaviridae. About 80 percent of people who become infected with Lassa virus have no symptoms. One in five infections result in serve disease, where the virus affects several organs such as the liver, spleen and kidneys.

Lassa fever is a zoonotic disease, meaning that humans become infected from contact with infect animals. The animal reservoirs, or host, of Lassa virus is a rodent of the genus mastomys, commonly known as the multimammate rat.” Mastomys commonly known as the “multimammate rat mastomys rats infected with Lassa virus do not become ill, but they can shed the virus in their urine and faeces. Because the clinical course of the disease is so variable, detection of the disease in affected patients has been difficult. However, when presence of the disease is confirmed in a community, prompt isolation of affected patients, good infection protection and control practices and rigorous contact tracing can stop outbreaks.

Symptoms of Lassa Fever
The incubation period of Lassa fever ranges from 6-21 days. The onset of the disease, when it is symptomatic, is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, and malaise. After a few days, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, and abdominal pain may follow.
In sever cases facial swelling, fluid in the lung cavity, bleeding from the mouth, nose vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure may develop. Protein may be noted in the urine. Shock, seizures, tremor, disorientation, and coma may be seen in the later stags. Deafness occurs in 25 per cent of patience partially after one to three months. Transient hair loss and gait disturbance may occur during recovery.

The antiviral drug ribavirin seems to be an effective treatment for Lassa fever if given early on in the course of clinical illness. There is no evidence to support the role of ribavirin as post-exposure prophylactic treatment for Lassa fever.
There is currently no vaccine that protect against Lassa fever.

Prevention and control
Prevention of Lassa fever relies on promoting good “community hygiene” to discourage rodents from entering homes. Effective measures include storing grain and other foodstuffs in rodent – proof containers, disposing of garbage far from the home, maintaining clean households and keeping cats. Because mastomys are so abundant in endemic areas, it is not possible to completely eliminate them from the environment.

Family members should always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons.

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