Nigerians show high awareness of the Lassa Fever virus disease – Expressing confidence in capacity of local hospitals to tackle the issue

Abuja, Nigeria. February 2nd, 2016 – A new public opinion poll conducted by NOIPolls in partnership with EpiAfric to seek the perception of Nigerians regarding the awareness, mode of transmission, symptoms and preventive measures of Lassa fever revealed that there is a very high level of awareness of the Lassa fever disease amongst Nigerians (81 percent). This is derived mostly through television (46 percent) and radio (39 percent). Awareness is highest in the North-East zone of the country (89 percent), where the disease was first observed in the 1960s and where the current outbreak appears to have started. Rat infected food stuff is commonly believed to be the main mode of transmission (93 percent);  while very few people mentioned the role of person-to-person transmission. People identified fever (63 percent), mucosal bleeding (37 percent), vomitting (33 percent) and headache (12 percent) to be the symptoms of the disease.

Majority of the respondents indicated that they were willing to go to a public hospital for health care if affected by the disease (92 percent). Most also indicated that they will ensure that their environment is clean (40 percent), as their primary strategy to avoid being affected by the virus. A higher percentage of Nigerians expressed their confidence in their local hospital’s capacity to manage cases of Lassa Fever (70 percent) and most respondents were confident that the Ministry of Health was carrying out enough sentisization about the disease (83 percent). These were the key findings from the recently conducted public opinion poll on the Health Sector in the week commencing January 25th 2016.

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Brief Background

Lassa fever is a severe and sometimes deadly disease, caused by the Lassa fever virus. It has been diagnosed in patients predominantly in West Africa. It is also known as Lassa Hemorrhagic Fever (LHF) although very few patients actually present with hemorrhagia (bleeding). Because the symptoms of Lassa fever are so varied and nonspecific, clinical diagnosis is often difficult.Outbreaks are initiated when a human is infected by an infected rodent. Research has shown that it is more prevalent during the dry season. Lassa fever was first discovered originally in 1969 in Lassa, a remote village in Borno State, Nigeria and since then, there have been numerous outbreaks across West Africa. Another outbreak started in August 2015 in Nigeria; it has spread to 17 States with a total record of 78 deaths (at the time of writing this report).

The Federal Ministry of Health says it is doing everything possible to defeat the deadly Lassa fever, just like it did during the outbreak of Ebola virus. It, however, urged residents to be on red alert by embracing personal and environmental hygiene. Given this background, NOIPolls in partnership with EpiAfric conducted a new opinion poll to assess the perception of Nigerians on the awareness, mode of transmission, and symptoms of Lassa Fever, as well as to ascertain their awareness on possible preventive measures of the disease.

Key Findings

The level of awareness on the outbreak of the ‘Lassa fever’ was assessed and survey results revealed that a large proportion of respondents (81 percent) acknowledged that they are aware of the recent outbreak of the disease. This can be attributed to the intensive awareness campaign embarked upon by the Federal Government through Federal Ministries of Health and Information as well as various state governments in sensitizing Nigerians on the outbreak of the disease.

This survey also sought to evaluate the knowledge of the respondents on the mode of transmission of the disease. When asked about how Lassa fever is transmitted (with multiple responses), 93 percent of Nigerians mentioned ‘rat infected food stuff’ as the main mode of transmission and this response cuts across gender, geo-political zones and age groups. Ten percent of respondents indicated that lassa fever virus is transmitted by ‘eating bush meat’ (10 percent) and ‘contact with the infected persons’. Human-to-human transmission which happens in both community and health-care locations, where the infection is spread by contact with the body fluids from a person carrying the virus, contaminated medical equipment, etc was hardly mentioned by respondents. In this outbreak, given the widespread nature of cases, and the high number of health care workers infected, human-to-human is the most likely dominat mode of transmission.

It is important to be aware of the early symptoms exhibited by a person suffering from Lassa fever disease. Respondents who claimed to be aware of the outbreak of the Lassa fever were probed further to ascertain their knowledge on the symptoms displayed by the Lassa fever patients. The largest percentage of the respondents (63 percent) stated that ‘fever’ is one of the symptoms of this disease. Thirty percent asserted that ‘mucosal bleeding’ is also one of the symptoms and other symptoms mentioned by the respondents, while 33% mentioned Vomiting, 12% Headache, 11% Diarrhea and 10% Facial swelling.

Subsequently, respondents’ level of confidence regarding the ability of hospitals in their locality to manage the outbreak of the disease was assessed. A large proportion of  Nigerians (70 percent) disclosed that they are ‘confident’ that their local hospitals could manage cases of Lassa Fever. Residents from the North-East, North-West and South-West zones accounted for the largest proportion of Nigerians who are confident.

 

This survey has shown that most Nigerians are aware of the Lassa Fever disease as well as acknowledging that the Ministry of Health is carrying out adequate sensitization. However, the role of person-to-person spread of the virus, especially in outbreak situations is under-appreciated. Also, almost no one mentioned the role of infection control in prevention. Respondents are somewhat unsure of the preventive measures and the symptoms since it is often misdiagnosed at an early stage as malaria and other feverish conditions. However, it is important to note that it is almost impossible to differentiate from malaria, therefore the most appropriate response to fever is to get a diagnosis for malaria, and not indulge in self-medication.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews of a proportionate random nationwide sample, and conducted in the week commencing 25th of January 2016. 1,000 randomly selected phone-owning Nigerians adults aged 18 years and above, across the six geopolitical zones in the country, were interviewed and the Interviews were conducted in English, Pidgin, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages. With a sample of this size, we can say with 95% confidence that the results obtained are statistically precise - within a range of plus or minus 3% margin of error. The margin of error reflects influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties associated with conducting telephone surveys (particularly in Nigeria) can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

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NOIPolls Limited, No.1 for country specific polling services in West Africa. We conduct periodic opinion polls and studies on various socio-economic and political issues in Nigeria. More information is available at www.noi-polls.com.

EpiAFRIC;an Abuja based public health consulting firm, is an advisory, research and capacity development organization set up to drive quality improvement in the health sector through an innovative, efficient, transparent and financially sustainable; creating an ecosystem of services for clients in the health sector. More information is available at www.epiafric.com.

Disclaimer

This report has been produced by NOIPolls Limited in collaboration with EpiAFRIC to provide information on Ebola Virus disease in Nigerians. NOIPolls and EpiAFRIC hereby certify that all the ideas expressed in this document accurately reflect the answers provided by the respondents surveyed for the poll. Background information is based on information from various sources. Whilst reasonable care has been taken in preparing this document, it cannot be guaranteed that this report does not contain any errors. Any ratings, forecasts, estimates, opinions or views herein constitute a judgment as at the date of this document. If the date of this document is not current, the views and content may not reflect current findings and/or thinking of NOIPolls and EpiAFRIC.

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