By Donatus Akwarandu
Lassa Fever has defiled Nigerian curtail measures as the Lassa Fever Virus (LAFV) spread faster across the country with an increase cases from 76 to over 200, from 33 deaths to over 76 deaths, and from five states to over 17 within two weeks while its citizens are busy accusing garri industries as agent of the virus.
As a result, garri industry , estimated at billions of naira and which is based on processed cassava tubers that provide very important staple food item in Nigeria and other West African countries may be threatened.
Investigation by newsmen has revealed that the virus is getting more fatal as the death rate has risen from about 40 per cent to 100 in some states.
It was leanrt that while Lassa fever is often mild, the disease could be severe with signs and symptoms similar to those of Ebola Virus Disease(EVD).
According to the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), LASV causes roughly 100,000 to 300,000 cases of Lassa fever each year in West Africa, with approximately 5,000 deaths.
The centre also said as many as 10 to 16 per cent of hospital admissions in some areas of West Africa may be due to Lassa fever for which no cure or vaccine is available yet.
However, the antiviral drug ribavirin may help patients if taken early in the course of the disease. Infections in people mainly occur through exposure to infected rodents or their secretions, and less commonly, between people through direct contact with bodily fluids.
The threat to the garri industry is due to a message currently circulating widely on the social media platforms warning Nigerians against the consumption of garri.
The Medical and Health Workers Union, Lagos State Council, has also discouraged the consumption of soaked garri as a preventive measure against Lassa fever.
The Chairman of the Union, Mr. Razak Adeofalade, was quoted to have said: “We are going to encourage members of the public to depart from the process of drinking garri. At this period, it is better that the cassava flour is utilized for eba, because of the use of hot water. We are waging total war and that is: ‘War against Rats,’ and that is what we are going to do to ensure we do not have another victim of Lassa Fever in the state.”
But cassava processors have debunked the rumor on garri stressing that the virus could hardly survive the production process. They, however, drew attention to the need for better hygienic practices at home.
According to them, it is untrue that garri is fried half-dry and subsequently dried on polythene sheets on tarred roads or compounds in the villages, maintaining that it is difficult for rats to feed on garri during production. They, however, harp on proper storage, stressing that, like other foods, rats can have access to garri, if not well stored.
They explained that the cyanide content in cassava makes it difficult for rats to feed on it during production process.
The Chairman of Cassava Growers Association, Pastor Tayo Adewumi, stressed that if not properly stored after production, rats could feed , urinate and defecate on it and by so doing people could come down with Lassa fever.
To him, it is unusual for garri processors to dry their product on the streets but that it is rather cassava flour that is usually dried in the sun.
He said: “It is very unusual for garri to be spread on the road. Garri is fried. But the fear is that when you expose it inside the house, without covering it, then rats can come and crawl over and defecate on it and introduce the virus to humans.”