Lassa fever Nigeria
At least 63 people have died from Lassa fever in Nigeria with the death toll expected to rise AFP/Getty Images

As many as 1,000 people are at risk of dying as a recent Lassa fever outbreak has spread to 17 states in Nigeria, the federal government has warned. At least 63 people out of the 212 cases recorded so far died after being infected with the deadly virus, the health minister said.

Isaac Adewole made the comments during an emergency meeting with the National Council on Health (NCH) in the federal capital of Abuja, NAN news agency reported.

The minister defined the outbreak as "a national embarrassment," but said Nigeria will be able to defeat the outbreak with the resources available. He added that additional diagnostic centres will be opened in the states mostly affected by the outbreak.

What is Lassa fever?

First identified in 1969, this is a hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus. It can be transmitted via contact with urine, faeces and blood of a rodent, commonly know as the multimammate rat.

Human to human transmission is also possible.

The virus is widespread in West Africa, particularly in Benin, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Lassa fever can be deadly if not cured during its early stage. Typical symptoms of this disease include high fever, general weakness, sore throat, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea. Later symptoms include bleeding, rashes and swelling of the eyes and genitals.

The incubation period lasts from six to 21 days, according to the World Health organisation (WHO).

Contamination can be prevented by, among other things, storing food in containers not accessible to rodents, disposing of garbage far from home and avoiding contact with bodily fluids of sick people.

See WHO's full recommendation list here.

Edo, Rivers, Nasarawa, Taraba Bauchi, Kano and Niger states have been identified as hot spots of the virus.

"We have special facilities around us and we have adequate human resource to address the challenge," Adewole said. "We will strengthen the primary health care centres across the country to enhance the surveillance mechanism.

"A committee had already been set up to map out health care centres across the country would benefit from the programme," he continued. "At least one primary health care centre will be functional in a ward,'' said Adewole."

The first case of Lassa fever in the latest outbreak in Nigeria was reported in August 2015. However, the outbreak was officially declared in January 2016, when a student from the Ahmadu Bello University in the northern state of Kaduna was reported ill when he arrived in Lagos on 9 January.

After being monitored for several days, he was diagnosed with Lassa as his symptoms, including high fever and sore throat, were consistent with the virus.

At least 25 people were diagnosed with Lassa fever in Nigeria's Edo state between 2005 and 2008. More recently, the West African nation has been hit by Ebola, another deadly hemorrhagic fever.

The Ebola outbreak was sparked in West Africa in January 2014. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea were ravaged by the virus, which caused more than 28,000 deaths in West Africa, with three deaths also reported in Europe and four in the US.

Nigeria was also affected by the outbreak, with at least eight deaths reported. The country was deemed a success case in the fight against Ebola.

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