Outbreak of suspected Lassa fever in W/A: GHS directs health facilities to be on alert

The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has directed all healthcare facilities across the country to be on the alert for suspected cases of Lassa fever.

It follows reports received on the disease outbreak in some West Africancountries including Liberia, Togo and Nigeria.

“Given the proximity of these countries both geographically and through travel, it is important that heightened surveillance is implemented to ensure the prompt identification and appropriate investigation of any suspected case,” a statement signed by the Director-General of the GHS, Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, said.

It asked health workers to apply outlined protocols in Ghana’s Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) strategy in suspecting and investigating for Lassa fever.

It defined suspected casesa of the disease as presenting in illness with gradual onset of one or more of the following; malaise, fever, headache, sore throat, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, myalgia, chest pain, hearing loss and a history of contact with excreta of rodents or with a case of Lassa fever.

The statement added that a confirmed case should have been a suspected case sanctioned by laboratory investigations through an antibody, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) or virus isolation test.

“All suspected cases of Lassa Fever should be investigated in line with protocols outlined in Ghana’s IDSR Technical Guidelines with strict adherence to infection prevention and control protocols.

Samples should be dispatched immediately to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research for investigations,” it said.

Lassa Fever is caused by the Lassa virus transmitted from Mastomys rat to humans primarily through food or items contaminated with rat faeces or urine.

Human-to-human transmission can also occur to a lesser extent in instances of direct contact with body fluids, blood and secretions of infected individuals.

The Acute Viral Haemorrhagic Fever illness, which is endemic in West Africaincubates betweensix and 21 days.

The onset of LF illness is often gradual, with non-specific signs and symptoms but commonly presents with fever, general weakness and malaise at the early onset. 

After a few days, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain may follow.

Severe cases may progress to show facial swelling, and bleeding tendencies (from mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract, and low blood pressure.

Shock, seizures, disorientation, and coma may be seen in the late stages resulting incomplications include: deafness, transient hair loss and gait disturbance during recovery.

About 80 % of Lassa Fever infections are mild or asymptomatic.

Ghana recorded first confirmed case(s) in 2011 and two districts, one each in Ashanti and Eastern regions then confirmed outbreaks of Lassa fever.

Early use of Ribavarine (within seven days of disease onset), supportive care with re-hydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival.

There is no effective vaccine for the disease at the moment.

BY ABIGAIL ANNOH

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