The World Health Organization says an outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria may have infected up to 450 people in less than five weeks.
The United Nations health agency said Tuesday that it is scaling up its response to the outbreak, which has spread to 17 states.
Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 4, nearly 450 suspected cases were reported, of which 132 are laboratory confirmed Lassa fever. Of these, 43 deaths were reported, including 37 that were lab confirmed.
“The high number of Lassa fever cases is concerning. We are observing an unusually high number of cases for this time of year,” Dr. Wondimagegnehu Alemu, WHO Representative to Nigeria, said in a release.
The acute viral hemorrhagic fever is endemic in Nigeria. The current outbreak is centred in the southern states of Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi.
Among those infected are 11 health workers. Four died.
Like Ebola, the disease is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of sick people.
The reservoir, or host, of Lassa virus is a rodent, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s website says. Humans often contract the virus from eating food contaminated by the urine or feces of rodents.
The CDC says in most people, symptoms are mild and may include slight fever, body aches and weakness. In about 20 per cent infected individuals, it can progress to bleeding from the gums, nose or eyes, respiratory distress and shock.
There is no vaccine to prevent it.