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Lassa Fever is spread by the multimammate rat, Mastomys natalensis, a very common rodent in central, east and West Africa and tends to live near humans due to easy access of food (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). The virus can be spread from rat-to-human, most often fecal-oral, or by inhaling contaminated air into the respiratory system or from person-to-person through body fluids (Ogbu, O., et al, 2007). The disease is asymptomatic or mild in 80% of cases, however, the remaining 20% develop the disease in systems throughout the body after an incubation period of 6-21 days (Heymann, D. L., 2008). The illness begins gradually with generic systems such as fever, sore throat, headache, cough, nausea, vomiting, headache, chest pain, abdominal pair and body aches and progresses through several systems in the body (Heymann, D. L., 2008). The disease attacks the circulatory system by multiplying viral particles in the blood vessels causing capillary lesions leading to hemorrhaging in other parts of the body including the brain, digestive system, heart and lungs. (Ogbu, O., et al, 2007). The cardiovascular system can be affected as well with most cases showing an abnormal EKG reading with changes in the T-wave and ST-segment, pericarditis, tachycardia or bradycardia, hypertension or hypotension (Magill, A. J., Ryan, E. T., Hill, D., 2013 & Soloman, T., 2013; Ogbu, O., et al, 2007). The respiratory symptoms include cough, shortness of breath and bronchitis (Ogbu, O., et al, 2007). The neurological symptoms can vary from fine tremors and confusion to much more serious symptoms such as seizures and encephalopathy (Magill, A. J., et al, 2013).
Lassa Fever found in several West African countries and is considered endemic in Nigeria, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone with cases also found in Mali, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso with blood work showing evidence of infection in Togo and Benin (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014).
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The current treatment includes the antiviral Ribavirin, typically used intravenously, along with supportive therapy including fluid replacement, blood transfusions, antibiotics and pain relievers/fever reducers (Ogbu, O., et al, 2007). One study showed patients at a high-risk for fatality that were treated within the first 6 days with Ribavirin for 10 days had a death rate of 5%, but those treated on the 7th day and after jumped to 26% (Ogbu, O., et al, 2007).
With an overall fatality rate of 1% the prognosis for individuals contracting Lassa Fever is good. Only 20% of patients show symptoms beyond general mild flu-like symptoms. The acute virus typically lasts for 1-4 weeks, is excreted through urine for 3-9 weeks and excreted through semen for up to 3 months (Heymann, D. L., 2008). The most common symptom to occur during the recovery period is eighth cranial nerve deafness in one or both ears, with up to 25% of patients showing this symptom. Of this 25% around ½ regain some of the hearing after several months (Heymann, D. L, 2008). Other symptoms include pericarditis or inflammation of the pericardium (more common in males), ataxia or lack of voluntary coordination of muscle motions, alopecia or hair loss, seizures and global encephalopathy (Ogbu, O., et al, 2007).