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Can Lassa fever be transmitted sexually?

It can also be transmitted sexually because seminal and virginal fluids are also forms of body fluid. Transmission can also occur through a wound on the skin and serum exuding from such wound can carry the virus. It can also be transmitted from mother to child; a pregnant woman who has the virus can transmit it to her child.

What are the common ways though which infection can occur?

First, the virus has to move from the animal reservoir to man and it can also spread from person to person. From the animal reservoir, it is when man comes in contact with the blood or other body fluid (blood and respiratory secretions) of the multi-mammate rat that infection can occur. This can also occur during the hunting of the rat, while preparing the rat as a meal or when the rat invades human abode and contaminates food. Sometimes, in some houses, doors may not be properly closed; there may be holes on the walls, through which the rat can gain access. If food is not properly covered, the rats can eat the food and, in the process, deposit some of their infected secretion on the food. When people eat such food, which is already contaminated, the virus enters their body. When the virus enters the human population, people who come in contact with the body fluid (blood, fluid from the nose or saliva from the mouth) of an infected person can be infected.

What are the other symptoms?

Lassa fever can cause sore throat and redness of the eyes. It can also cause altered sensorium, bleeding from body orifices and it is actually an illness that can affect every system of the body. It can manifest in a lot of things, including diarrhoea and vomiting.

With the recent concerns about the disease, what can Nigerians do to prevent the spread of the virus?

The virus was named after a village (Lassa, in Borno State) in North-East, Nigeria. That was the first place it came to the limelight. But it occurs everywhere now.

It is important for people to realise that Lassa fever is an infectious disease that is transmittable. If they know that, they will realise that there is something they can do to avoid getting infected. Now, we know that the virus is transmitted by the multi-mammate rat. So, people should avoid hunting rats for meat because if they avoid handling the rats, they are not likely to get exposed to the virus. People also need to attend to their homes by making sure that doors are properly locked and there are no holes in the wall through which the rats can come in when people are not suspecting.

Dr Nnenna Ajayi is a consultant physician and gastroenterologist in Internal Medicine at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. The head of clinical services at the virology centre and Chairman of Lassa fever committee in the hospital.

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