While no cases of Lassa Fever have been reported in South Africa following the recent outbreak in parts of Nigeria, people travelling to affected parts of the country are advised to be cautious as a precautionary measure.
News reports state that just more than 100 people have died as a result of Lassa Fever in parts of Nigeria since August last year.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), four of the most affected countries are Bauchi, Edo, Oyo and Taraba, Randfontein Herald reported.
Professor Lucille Blumberg, the deputy-director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said there has been an increase in the number of cases in Nigeria and cases have also been reported in Burkina Faso.
“These are not common areas that tourists generally visit. It is important, however, for people to be aware,” she said.
Lassa Fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever (VHF). The arenavirusis transmitted to humans through contact with food and objects such as household equipment that has been contaminated by urine or faeces of multimammate rats.
Person-to-person transmission occurs through direct contact with the blood, faeces, urine and other bodily secretions of an infected person.
The virus, however, has not been found in rodents in South Africa.
Initial symptoms occur about one to three weeks after a person contracts the virus. In cases where people have symptoms, these may include high fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, a sore throat, cough, back pain and conjunctivitis.
In severe cases, the virus could result in facial swelling, coma, seizures, bleeding from the nose or mouth and can affect body organs such as the liver and kidneys, and it may lead to death.
There is no vaccine against Lassa Fever, which is endemic to many parts of West Africa including Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. A drug called Ribavirin is used to treat infected people.
“The NICD has a specialised high security laboratory where testing can be done for a range of these viruses including Lassa Fever. Overall the commonest cause of fever in patients or travellers from Africa remains malaria. Any acute fever with flu-like symptoms is more likely to be due to malaria rather than Lassa,” Blumberg said.
Dr Robyn Holgate, the Chief Medical Officer at ER24, said ER24 continues to screen all patients for a travel history to West Africa.
“It’s critical we detect a potential VHF case before transfer or admission to hospital. Basic appropriate personal protective equipment is mandatory at ER24, and we have an escalation process which addresses any clinical concerns after history and examination,” she said.