Food, Safety and Lassa Fever 



There is currently an outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria, Lagos to be precise. This outbreak has resulted in the death of two index patients at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and 3 medical personnel have tested positive as of today. It is an infectious disease spread by Multimammate rat also called the African Rat. The symptoms are typically fever, weakness, headache, vomiting, muscle pain, in and some cases bleeding from the mouth or gastrointestinal tract. Death usually occurs within 2 weeks but the risk of death is low if Lassa fever is detected in good time.


These African rats are easily found in Nigeria: in homes, offices, bushes, streets, everywhere. Around the home, they scavenge for food. When they scavenge for food, they leave droppings of faeces or urine all around and if this faeces or urine comes in contact with foods stored in your house then there is a possibility of infection; that is if that rat is carrying the virus. This is just one of the ways that Lassa fever spreads. Other ways include eating infected rats (Bush rats), direct contamination by inhaling particles infected by the rodents, and contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids like semen, blood and saliva. My focus is on contamination in the home through food, water and environment.

Roasted Rats

Rat infestations in homes in Nigeria are not uncommon and thus this advice should be taken seriously. Here are a few ways to protect yourself and your family from Lassa fever.

  1. Finding appropriate storage for your food and Water

It is important to keep your foods stored in secure places and containers where rats cannot reach them. Strong Plastic containers are helpful in storing grains. I used the word ‘strong’ because we have heard stories of hungry rats that would eat up plastic containers. Some others can be kept in the freezer or refrigerator depending on the type of food. Some foods that cannot be wrapped up and must be left in the open should be kept in a safe room where rats do not have access to your house. Also, your water containers (for drinking and utility) should be properly covered to avoid contamination.


  1. Wash foods, food containers, food utensils before use

You can take an extra precaution by washing foods thoroughly before cooking or eating. Rewashing cooking utensils stored in cupboards and left in the open will be wise. Also, when using processed foods or drinks stored in tins or cans, do not hesitate to wash them properly before opening.
  1. Wash Hands 

The habit of hand washing is very important in food and health. Teach and encourage children and other members of the family to wash their hands once they get into the house before touching things, eating and frequently when the need arises. This is a lifelong habit that has health benefits.


  1. 4. Keep Homes Free from the African Rat

Keeping the African rat from your homes is the most important advice of all. This rodent is indigenous to West Africa and so it is hard to eliminate completely. Apart from the government doing its best to keep this rodent population under control in Nigeria, it is your duty to keep your own abode safe from them. Apart from keeping the home clean and keeping food away from them, there are many methods that are being used to get rid of these rats from rat catchers to poisons. Use the one that is most effective and safe and keep your family safe from diseases.

Lassa fever was first identified in a town in Borno State called Lassa in 1969. This is unfortunately now part of our history. It would  be great to make a different history by totally eliminating this viral haemorrhagic fever from our country but we all need to do our part by keeping our homes clean, emptying our trash, cleaning our environment and ensuring that these rats have no place in homes.

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