Lassa Fever Along With Covid Puts Pressure On Africa’s Healthcare

Nikki Attkisson | Last Updated : December 31, 2021

An animal-borne, viral illness is rampant in Africa and is putting immense pressure on the healthcare system which is already reeling under the Covid-19 crisis. 

Lassa Fever Along With Covid Puts Pressure On Africa’s Healthcare

Lassa fever is rampant in parts of West Africa like Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea with the neighboring countries also at risk. 

Lassa Fever Along With Covid Puts Pressure On Africa's Healthcare

An article in the Journal of Medical Virology laid out the impact of the dual viruses that are taking over Africa. In it, the authors claimed that due to Covid-19, all resources in the continent are being directed away to other infectious diseases like the Lassa fever.

The Lassa fever, which is endemic to Western Africa, may have been transmitted from rodents to humans. As per trusted sources, the disease affects 2 million people, with 5,000-10,000 deaths every year. 

Currently, there is an ongoing effort to develop treatments and vaccines against Lassa fever, coupled with a public hygiene campaign and enhanced research.  

The disease has symptoms that are known to be similar to other ailments like dengue and typhoid fever. Common Lassa fever symptoms include weakness, sore throat, and pain in the joints. 

But, with the raging Covid-19 variant Omicron, there is an extra burden on the healthcare system to identify and treat Lassa fever in Africa. 

This leaves the continent, which already has a poor healthcare infrastructure under immense pressure.

Early in 2021, researchers published an article that lifted the lid on the Lassa fever epidemic that followed Covid-19, along with public health strategies to contain the disease. 

Dr. Matt Price, the director of epidemiology at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and assistant clinical professor at epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco said that although Lassa fever is endemic to West Africa, the reporting on the disease has been irregular alongside a feeble understanding of the condition. 

He expressed his concerns about Nigeria being the epicenter of numerous outbreaks in this past decade. 

However, he noted the positives in adding that surveillance of Lassa fever is ongoing in Nigeria and mass-scale research is underway in the rest of the affected countries. He expressed hope for a better understanding of the disease with the studies. 

The Nigeria Center for Disease Control reported 10 additional cases of the Lassa fever on December 19, which brings the total number of cases in 2021 to 454, with the annual death count rising to 92. 

Lassa fever is a viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus, which has been believed to have been transmitted from multimammate rats. 

The disease has been found to be particularly active during the dry seasons in Africa, which lasts from November to May. 

Lassa fever is transmitted through direct contact with the infected rats, passive contact through household items that have been contaminated by infected rats, and through people coming in direct contact with the body fluids of infected individuals. 

Common symptoms of the fever are known to be fever, headache, weakness, sore throat, nausea, cough, vomiting, body ache, and in severe cases, bleeding from the ears, eyes, nose, mouth, or other openings in the body for no apparent reasons. 

So far, it has been found that the infection and appearance of its symptoms take 3 days to 21 days, respectively. 

Researchers have said that a vaccine or treatment for Lassa fever is currently under development and could arrive around mid-2022. But the race to find a cure could have inordinate delays due to the rampant Covid-19 situation in Africa. 

Early detection and treatment are vital to saving lives from the Lassa fever, but the commonality of its symptoms with other diseases like malaria, dengue, and typhoid obscure its identification.

Nikki Attkisson

With over 15 years as a practicing journalist, Nikki Attkisson found herself at Powdersville Post now after working at several other publications. She is an award-winning journalist with an entrepreneurial spirit and worked as a journalist covering technology, innovation, environmental issues, politics, health etc. Nikki Attkisson has also worked on product development, content strategy, and editorial management for numerous media companies. She began her career at local news stations and worked as a reporter in national newspapers.

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