1997 - Lassa fever in Sierra Leone - Update 2
22 May 1997
Disease Outbreak Reported
During the first four months of 1997 a total of 353 cases of Lassa fever with 43 deaths (12.2.%) were reported. The number of cases increased from 45 with 7 deaths (15.6%) in January to 75 cases and 9 deaths (12.0%) in February, and 147 cases with 20 deaths (13.4%) in March but decreased to 86 cases with 7 deaths (8.1%) in April. The resumption of civil unrest in Kenema in late April and the brief closure of the Kenema hospital may have adversely affected reporting. During 1997, a total of 470 cases with 110 deaths (23.4%) were reported. While the majority of cases sought medical care in Kenema four cases were identified in Freetown. Initially, cases seeking medical care in Freetown were transported to Kenema but an isolation ward is now being established in Freetown using health staff trained at the Lassa fever isolation ward in Kenema to ensure prompt management of suspect cases.
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation together with WHO and MERLIN is planning activities to prevent the spread of the disease and improve management of suspect cases. Key district health personnel will be included in a nation-wide training programme on Lassa fever control that is planned for later in the year. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation is studying a plan for rodent control. Treatment with ribavirin was resumed in mid-April with the arrival of new supplies of the drug after the stock was depleted in February. Ribavirin will be distributed to other areas where health personnel are familiar with administration of this drug for the treatment of Lassa fever . The Ministry of Health and Sanitation is also establishing a national Lassa fever control programme with a programme manager based in Kenema.