Lassa fever is a viral ailment carried by the multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis) with various symptoms that can be deadly. The condition is prevalent in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Guinea but also in neighboring countries.
Once a rat is infected, it can excrete the virus via its urine, potentially for the rest of its life. This makes the spread of the disease worrisome along with the fact that this species easily breeds and inhabits human dwellings.
The common route of transmission is ingestion or inhaling rat urine or feces. Lassa fever can also spread via open sores and cuts. Since rats thrive in and around human habitation, they are exposed to food items. Remember that the rats are often eaten and the disease and can spread during preparation.
What are the indications?
The symptoms of Lassa fever essentially arise within 1-3 weeks after infection. In most cases of infections, the symptoms are mild that they remain undiagnosed. The mild infections include generalized malaise, light fever and headache. In uncommon cases where Lassa fever becomes serious, the symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal pain
- Swollen airways
- Difficulty swallowing
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Swollen face
- Chest pain or in the abdomen and back
- Hearing loss
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Hypertension or hypotension
Fatality can occur within 2 weeks after the start of the symptoms due to multiple organ failure. One of the usual complications is deafness that varies in degree.
The antiviral drug ribavirin is considered effective in managing Lassa fever if given early. On the other hand, its mechanism of action is still being debated on.
Throughout the course of the condition, it is vital to properly manage the fluid levels, electrolyte balance, blood pressure and oxygenation of the individual.
It is sad to note though that availability of ribavirin in affected areas is limited. In addition, it is potentially toxic and teratogenic.