Health minister: Lassa fever kills 35 in 10 Nigerian states

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WARRI, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's health minister is urging Nigerians not to panic over an outbreak of an organ-attacking fever that has killed 35 people, nearly half of suspected cases, in the past six weeks.

Dr. Isaac Adewole said in a statement Friday night that the government was containing the outbreak of Lassa fever, a hemorrhage-inducing fever caused by a virus commonly borne by vermin. Lassa fever is confined to West Africa, where the affliction thrives amid poor sanitation and crowded living conditions.

Adewole said doctors had identified 81 suspected cases since mid-November, with lab results confirming 17 cases as definitely Lassa fever.

The disease is named after a Nigerian town where it was first identified in 1969. It manifests similar symptoms to Ebola, ranging from headaches and sore throats to vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding from all orifices. Like Ebola, suspected Lassa cases require health workers to wear protective clothing and patients to be isolated.

While the World Health Organization estimates that only about about 1 percent of people who contract Lassa die from the pathogen, Adewole's figures put Nigeria's recent fatality rate at 43 percent.

Adewole said the government has deployed rapid response teams to 10 Nigerian states hit by the outbreak, distributed the ribavirin antiviral drug used to treat Lassa, and advised the public to ensure they store food in containers that rats cannot access.

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