When we again look at preventive health contextually, we will rather refer to it as an approach by an individual, a family or a population group in taking proactive actions towards disease prevention. I would want us to take note of the words “Proactive Actions” which clearly tells us, we do not act in the face of the disease or illness but an action taken in advance to forestall possible occurrence of such diseases.
Taking a quick study of the recent outbreak of the dreaded Lassa fever which is a part of the haemorrhagic virus, I realised it has it traces and foot prints on same parts as Ebola virus, running within the four volatile Ebola virus susceptible Nations (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea). I suddenly perceive there are a number of things we might not be getting right here and one of such things is obviously hygiene.
Hygiene is almost like the bedrock of preventive health, most of the common diseases arising in deaths are very preventable through effective and sustainable standard of hygiene. These four countries are characterised with a high level of compromised hygiene standards which suddenly gets better at the outbreak of a viral disease and drops as the disease and scare comes to an end. This totally makes us reactive and being reactive only deals with surface indicators which the root causes are never unveiled and neither are they attended to in right manner.
As a nation and as a population, we must first deal with our commonalities before taking advantage of our peculiarities and this is a workable approach to safe health. Travel Medicine has told us that one of the fastest ways to spread infection across international borders is through travelling. Infections travel with its host looking for other vulnerable people to infect.
I was in all honesty thinking that these countries that have been infected with Lassa fever over and over again should have made it an issue of National priority to create a lasting prevention to Lassa fever virus by collectively creating a joint framework agreement on this issue. According to the WHO, between 300,000 – 500,000 cases of Lassa fever happens in this sub region annually and about 5,000 deaths are recorded, this is 1% case fatality rate (CFR). This is not a good one, the need to stop the outbreak of the virus is important.
Studies have revealed that women who are in their third trimester of pregnancy are at a higher risk with only 1 in 10 fetal survival rate. When this happens, healthcare workers mainly bother to same only one person and that is the pregnant woman and this is most times through abortion. I think this can be prevented. We have it here with us now, but do not forget we also have women who are pregnant in our midst. Recommendations are focused on regular hand washing, keep all foods in rodent-proof containers, keep the home as clean as possible all the time (rats are attracted to dirty and unclean environment). Also keep your windows closed at night, this guides against possible inhalation of very light particles infected by faeces or urine of rodents. This is not the best of times to drink garri soaked in water, most Nigerians love this meal but we must understand our new abnormal situation which is avoidance of soaked garri in water as meal. The virus will not survive in temperature that is up to 55 degree centigrade, this means you can use your garri for Eba (Garri in Hot Water) and also ensure your food is adequately cooked.
As we all come together to battle this scare of Lassa fever, we must not forget the fact that all cases end up in hospitals and hospitals are not manned by ghost but healthcare workers who are also as human as we are. The case of the Late Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh and the national sacrifice she made during Ebola outbreak in Nigeria should still be fresh in our minds.
Healthcare workers will surely have secondary contact and this is part of the risks they have in their job, but the need to also know what precautions to take as healthcare workers will not only protect them but also reduce the spread of the virus as well as national incidence statistics. There are already establishment of transmission of the virus through body to body contact or nosocomial routes which can be avoided through barrier nursing methods, VHF isolation prevention and having an effective infection control process guidelines. These may include wearing of protective clothing (PPE) such as masks, gloves, gowns, goggles etc. Other control measures are complete sterilization of equipment, isolation of infected patients from contact with unprotected persons until the disease runs its course. We must not forget that Lassa fever has no vaccine yet through trials are on in this direction.
Talking about the disease running its cause, it is important to know that the disease lasts for 4 weeks but it has 3 weeks incubation period. In Nigeria as at today, we have 212 suspected cases in 62 Local Government Areas, 63 deaths recorded in 6 months and 17 States out of the 36 States in Nigeria have already recorded the presence of Lassa fever.
What this tells us is that the need to increase awareness and advocacy on the prevalent of this disease is of crucial importance. We cannot sound and resound this enough; we need to take the message to children in schools, to churches and mosques, market places, offices, motor parks and every available public place. We need to create enough information oxygen within this space; the people need to be aware of the role expected of them to play in such a very sensitive time in the life of their nation.
We can only reduce the spread of this virus, reduce the casualty rate if we all can talk about this in all places. There is no need to wait for the next man to be infected; it is a preventive health approach and strategy if you tell the next man how to conduct himself from getting infected by this virus. Tell him all that there is about this disease, you will only be saving yet another life.
I do not like gossip but if we must gossip let it be about Lassa virus, it will be credited on to you as positive gossip in the right direction. Lives are at risk here.
Play your role!