Liberia announces health emergency as Lassa fever death toll rises to 21

LAGOS, Nigeria—Officials of the Liberian Ministry of Health on Monday declared a health emergency following the outbreak of Lassa fever.  The virus has so far claimed 21 lives this year.

Liberia’s chief medical officer Dr. Francis Kateh told reporters that four counties are affected by the disease, a viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus.

“What is more concerning to us is the fact that when health workers that have the authority and have been trained to identify and take care of others are being infected, then that escalates the process to another level,” said Kateh.

The country’s chief medical officer said a laboratory technician has also been identified among those killed by the outbreak between January 1 and August 25.

So far, the disease has spread in Nimba, Grand Bassa, Bong, and Grand Kru counties, the official noted. 

Adding, the case fatality rate is 36 percent, and that 56 percent confirmed cases were men.

Healthcare professionals say the situation is alarming and becoming a major issue of concern because it is growing out of the areas identified as “Lassa Belt” in the country.

The country’s Director-General of the National Public Health Institute Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah described the disease as “second Ebola” and called for tougher measures to contain it.

“The Lassa is second Ebola, no need to hide the information. It’s better we put the information out there; the situation we’re dealing with and how we can prevent it,” said Nyenswah.

“It’s important that we raise this and let the general public know that there are a couple of things they can do,” he added.

Scientists say humans become infected with the Lassa virus from exposure to urine or feces of infected rats. Other than common preventive measures such as washing hands regularly, the World Health Organization has recommended keeping cats.

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Dave Okonjie

Dave Okonjie is a public affairs analyst, researcher and senior issues correspondent.
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