The President of the Nigerian Society for Virology, Prof. Clement Mboto, has alerted Nigerians to the possibility of contracting both COVID-19 and Lassa fever at the same time.
The virologist who is a professor of medical microbiology at the University of Calabar, noted that Nigerians are now at risk of getting infected at the same time with the two viral diseases because the nation is presently battling the outbreaks of the two health conditions.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, as of July 20, 2022, a total of 259,720 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Nigeria, with 253,074 recoveries and 3,146 deaths.
Data from the NCDC also revealed that so far in 2022, 842 cases of Lassa fever have been reported with 160 confirmed fatalities from the disease.
COVID-19 is a viral infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. According to the WHO, the COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes. WHO said:
“Droplet transmission occurs when a person is in close contact with someone who has (COVID-19) respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing or sneezing) and is therefore at risk of having his/her mucosae (mouth and nose) or conjunctiva (eyes) exposed to potentially infective respiratory droplets.
“Transmission may also occur through fomites in the immediate environment around the infected person. Therefore, the transmission of the COVID-19 virus can occur by direct contact with infected people and indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate environment or with objects used on the infected person (e.g., stethoscope or thermometer).
“Airborne transmission is different from droplet transmission as it refers to the presence of microbes within a droplet … that can remain in the air for long periods and be transmitted to others.”
The Lassa fever virus, however, is endemic in West Africa, with rodents serving as its primary vector. Its transmission is predominantly through ingestion or inhalation. Urine and faecal droppings on food items such as ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, garri, etc., are easy routes of transmission for the health condition.
Also, contact with contaminated fomites and exposure of open wounds, sores, etc. to such droppings could facilitate Lassa fever infection.
Speaking in a chat with PUNCH HealthWise, Prof. Mboto said while the country is yet to record a case of an individual getting infected with both viruses, proactive measures are necessary to avert such an occurrence.
He warned that any patient that has such a coinfection is at risk of severe health complications. He, however, noted that the modes of transmission of COVID-19 and the Lassa fever virus and their inhabitants are different, adding that the organs they affect also differ.
The NSV President said,
“It is possible to get infected with both the COVID-19 and Lassa fever viruses if you are exposed to them.
“Concurrent infection with COVID-19 and Lassa fever virus, though not yet documented, will undoubtedly result in complications. This is because the viruses will complement each other, causing severe damage to the body’s immune system.
“While Lassa fever virus targets the liver, spleen, and kidneys, COVID-19 targets the respiratory tract, including the lungs. If these major organs are simultaneously infected in an individual, the resultant health effect will obviously be complicated with enhanced possibility of morbidity and mortality.”
Prof. Mboto said,
“Nigeria, like most other developing countries, especially under the current Minister of Health, has been reasonably focused on preventive and diagnostic measures to curb the spread of these viruses.”
He, however, noted that the long-term solution will be for the Nigerian government to establish centres for research into these viruses and also intensify efforts for vaccine production.
“With good research, these centres will also be able to predict most epidemics before they occur,” the expert said.
Prof. Mboto also urged Nigerians to prevent getting infected at the same time with COVID-19 and Lassa fever virus, stressing that the public, as well as health workers, must ensure good personal hygiene to prevent getting infected with the viral infections. He added:
“The good thing about these two viruses is that their natural history and mode of transmission are no secrets.
“So, it is quite easy to avoid them even if you are a health worker. The main preventive measures are the maintenance of good personal hygiene and avoiding all sources of their possible acquisition.”