1. It is a viral illness: it is caused by Lassa virus,a member of the arenavirus family of viruses. Illness usually lasts about 1-4weeks and may end up in recovery or death.
2. Rats are major carriers of the virus: The virus is usually harboured by a rat known as Mastomys natalensis (multimammate rat) and can be spread to humans via food or household items contaminated with its urine or faeces.
3. It can be transmitted from person to person: a non- infected person can get the virus from an infected person if he comes in direct contact with blood, urine, faeces or other body secretions of the infected person. Sexual transmission has also been reported according to the WHO.
4. Its symptoms may not manifest immediately: An infected person may not show any symptoms until 1-3 weeks after exposure to the virus, so you must always be on guard, that seemingly well person beside you may just have come in contact with the virus a few days ago.
5. Symptoms may initially resemble common cold or malaria symptoms: symptoms appear gradually and may include: fever, weakness, headaches,nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,stomach pain, sore throat, cough or chest pain. Do not take any of these symptoms to be your usual malaria or common cold especially if you’ve been taking drugs at home and there is no improvement. In severe cases, symptoms may include bleeding from the mouth, nose and vagina which may lead to low blood pressure.
6. It could lead to spontaneous abortion in pregnant women: The illness is usually severe in pregnant women especially those in their third trimester and almost always leads to death of the unborn child.
7. It could lead to deafness: Deafness is a common complication that can occur in people infected with the virus regardless of how severe the infection, hearing loss is usually permanent.
8. It has no vaccine but can be treated: There is currently no vaccine available to prevent it however it can be treated with an antiviral drug known as Ribavarin which is usually effective when given early in the course of the illness.
How can you protect yourself?
Start by getting rid of the animal reservoirs of the virus(rats) in your home and office;
use pesticides and rat traps.This might also be a good time to fumigate your environment.
-Store dry foods like Rice,beans and Garri in containers with tight lids.
-Avoid eating such foods without cooking properly.
-Always wash pots, pans, dishes and cutlery properly before using.
-Keep your kitchen and other surroundings tidy, collect refuse in bins with tight lids and dispose appropriately.
-Wash your hands often especially before eating and before and after using the toilet.
-Use hand sanitizers regularly.
-If you or anyone around you experience any of the above signs and symptoms with no improvement, report to the hospital immediately.
-Practice safe sex.