Lassa fever epidemic in Nigeria: research continues

The epidemic of Lassa fever, which has been raging since the beginning of the year, is decreasing in intensity.

Not fewer than 394 cases have been reported since 1st January 2018. 95 people have died, but over the past month, the number of new cases has been significantly reduced, thanks to screening and research on the disease, led by the NCDC, the national center for the control of epidemics.

With 394 cases listed since the beginning of the year, compared to 147 for the whole year 2017, it is the largest outbreak of Lassa fever that Nigeria has ever known. And even though the virus has been losing steam for a month, new cases of Lassa fever are still registered in Nigeria. And while the latest numbers bode well, Dr. Chikwe Ihekwazu, director of NCDC, the national center for epidemic control, remains cautious. Relentlessly, his teams are working to improve screening.

“I think we have a lot more tools than in the past. Until this year, we had only two laboratories to perform diagnostics but we now have four. As we increase our screening capacity, we will be better able to understand how to explain the epidemic, its endemicity, and therefore refine our response.”

Could a mutation of the virus be involved? The track has just been ruled out.

“From the beginning of the epidemic we were able to do DNA sequencing,” says Dr. Chikwe Ihekwazu.

“For the moment, we do not see any significant change in the virus. It is very similar to what we have known in the past. Rat transmission to humans remains by far the most important mode of transmission and there is a very low level of infection from man to man. This leads us to explore other hypotheses to explain the magnitude of this epidemic.”

Research is just beginning according to scientists, this could be related to the explosion of the population in Nigeria. It could also result from an environmental or behavioral change, which would have increased the contact between human and rat Mastomys, the main vector of the virus.

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