What is lassa fever? It is also a hemorrhagic fever virus similar to Ebola virus and Marburg virus. Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease that is caused by Lassa virus, which is a member of the arenavirus family of viruses. It is a viral illness that is caused by infections from rodents or rats, common in West Africa. And, it can prove to be fatal or life-threatening if the virus spreads in the liver, kidneys, or spleen. Western African countries have been affected by this epidemic. Lassa virus can spread in humans mostly through exposure to food or household products, if they get infected through urine or faeces of Mastomys rats.
Lassa fever is not like ebola virus and cannot spread from person to person. Basically, this virus gets transmitted by urine or feces of Mastomys rats to humans. And, frontline workers may even get infected by direct contact with blood, urine, stool or other fluids of a patient who has lassa fever. Around 5,000 deaths are reported every year due to lassa fever. This disease is most commonly seen in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria. The symptoms of lassa fever are different in every case and include pulmonary, cardiac and neurological issues. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Monalisa Sahu, Consultant Infectious Diseases, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, about lassa fever.
Lassa fever symptoms
The symptoms of lassa fever mostly start developing between 6-21 days after contracting infection. It is still unknown as to when infected humans are contagious, but the virus is cleared from the blood during recovery post three weeks of experiencing any symptoms. Most people are asymptomatic but those who have any signs, experience flu like illness. According to Dr. , here are the main symptoms of lassa fever:
- Gums and nose bleeding
- Difficulty in breathing
- Chest pain
Lassa fever causes
So, lassa fever virus is a zoonosis, which is the term used for an animal borne disease that spreads to humans from animals. Once a Mastomys rat gets infected with this virus, it can excrete the infection in its feces and urine, and this might happen for the whole life. And, this leads to the virus spreading easily, especially as the rats breed quickly and can contaminate human bodies as well. Usually, people become infected by inhaling contaminated air that contains aerosols of the excretions of rat and the virus entering your body through contaminated food, water or other items.
One of the most common ways of transmitting the virus is by consuming or inhaling rat urine or feces. And, it can also spread through cuts and open wounds. The rats come in contact with your food often as they live in and around human habitation. Sometimes, people eat the rats, and the disease can be spread while cooking or eating it. Human to human contact happens through blood, tissue, secretions or excretions, other fluids but not through direct touching contact. Sharing needles can also be a risk in spreading the virus, and some people have reported the transmission sexually as well.
Lassa fever diagnosis and treatment
The symptoms of Lassa fever are widely different in every case and the diagnosis can be difficult due to this reason. It is diagnosed with laboratory tests, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between lassa fever and other infections that are common in West Africa. Lassa fever is mostly diagnosed by using enzyme-linked immunosorbent serologic assays (ELISA). These help in finding out IgM and IgG antibodies and lassa antigens.
In most of the cases, lassa fever illness is not severe and does not require getting admitted in the hospital. Other options include rehydration which can help in treating symptoms if diagnosed on time. Antiviral drugs if given initially in the course of illness can prove to be an effective treatment for lassa fever. There are other treatment methods that focus on easing the symptoms and maintaining body function. These options include:
After feeling nauseated with every food, fluids can become a friend in such situations. You can drink water, homemade juices and coconut water to compensate and boost energy and strength in your body. They are highly nutritious and can help in curing other symptoms of lassa fever including fever and weakness. Even the experts recommend people to drink plenty of fluids, if suffering from this disease.
The symptom of vomitting is common in the people suffering from lassa fever. Therefore, it becomes important to take some electrolytes for energy in the body. These treatment options are just to help your body in fighting the symptoms of lassa fever. The best source of electrolytes is coconut water, otherwise you can find electrolyte in the market easily.
It is an animal borne virus that spread through contaminated air, food, items and water. Additionally, lassa fever can affect your pulmonary tract as well. And in such cases, oxygenation can work as a treatment option for this disease. Oxygenation can treat the difficulty in breathing and thus supportive care tip is important for many cases.
4. Blood pressure
Managing blood pressure levels is a symptomatic treatment that improves survival. There is a risk of having low blood pressure in people suffering from this condition. One can take useful steps to bring back the blood pressure levels to normal. Maintaining cleanliness in the house can also act as an effective measure to prevent this virus from infecting your body.
These were the symptoms, causes and treatment for lassa fever by Dr. Along with mild illness, the most common complication of lassa fever is hearing loss, which has been observed in many cases. There is no vaccine available to prevent lassa fever till now. After the serious virus outbreak in 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) and many global public health organisations are working day and night to make an effective vaccine to prevent this virus.
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