Fear of possible Lassa fever epidemic rocks Lokoja

The passing of Samuel Agu, a 300-level Microbiology student at Federal University Lokoja (FUL), on Sunday has caused concerns about a potential Lassa fever epidemic in the capital of Kogi State.

Unconfirmed reports had it that a male student of the university fell sick and was taken to Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Lokoja, where his sample was taken and sent to Abuja for screening, but he died before the result came out.

An X user had, on Sunday, posted a video showing what looked like fully masked health workers with people crying in the background.

The caption for the video reads, “(It) looks like there’s a disease outbreak here in Lokoja. (We) lost a student yesterday to ‘haemorrhagic fever’. (I) don’t know what that is, but other people who were in contact with the deceased in the last 21 days are going to be kept in the isolation centre.”

Chairman Medical Advisory Committee (CMAC) at FMC, Lokoja, Dr Ebune Ojochide, told our correspondent that the boy was admitted to FMC last week Wednesday, having been ill for about three weeks.

According to The Guardian checks, from preliminary investigation, the hospital had suspected that the sickness, which led to the death of the student, might not be unconnected with Lassa fever and had to take special precautions in taking the corpse away.

A reliable source at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (NCDC) told The Guardian that the post was true, but added that it had not been ascertained whether the student in question died of Lassa fever or not, as they were still awaiting laboratory confirmation.

He said: “The post is true. They are still awaiting lab confirmation for Lassa fever. Once that is confirmed, we will let you know if it is Lassa or not.”

Meanwhile, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of FUL, Daniel Nwankwo, said though the cause of the student’s death was still unknown, the sample tested negative for Lassa fever.

He added that the immediate contacts of the deceased were not isolated, but were advised to minimise contact with people.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by the Lassa virus, a member of the Arenaviridae family. Humans usually contract the Lassa virus through exposure to food or household items contaminated with urine or faeces of infected Mastomys rats.

About 4,726 suspected cases of Lassa fever, 776 confirmed cases and 142 deaths have been recorded in 27 states across 123 local councils in the country as of the first quarter of 2024.

The last Lassa fever outbreak in Kogi was in April 2022, with 41 persons affected in nine local councils.

A statement by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Daniel Alonge, in April 2022, listed Idah, Ibaji, Lokoja, Ajaokuta, Ofu, Okene, Okehi, Kabba and Adavi as the affected councils.

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