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Concept: Kenema District

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Poor quality housing is an infringement on the rights of all humans to a standard of living adequate for health. Among the many vulnerabilities of those without adequate shelter is the risk of disease spread by rodents and other pests. One such disease is Lassa fever, an acute and sometimes severe viral hemorrhagic illness endemic in West Africa. Lassa virus is maintained in the rodent Mastomys natalensis, commonly known as the “multimammate rat,” which frequently invades the domestic environment, putting humans at risk of Lassa fever. The highest reported incidence of Lassa fever in the world is consistently in the Kenema District of Sierra Leone, a region that was at the center of Sierra Leone’s civil war in which tens of thousands of lives were lost and hundreds of thousands of dwellings destroyed. Despite the end of the war in 2002, most of Kenema’s population still lives in inadequate housing that puts them at risk of rodent invasion and Lassa fever. Furthermore, despite years of health education and village hygiene campaigns, the incidence of Lassa fever in Kenema District appears to be increasing. We focus on Lassa fever as a matter of human rights, proposing a strategy to improve housing quality, and discuss how housing equity has the potential to improve health equity and ultimately economic productivity in Sierra Leone. The manuscript is designed to spur discussion and action towards provision of housing and prevention of disease in one of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone, Kenema District

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 Ebola virus disease (EVD) in health workers (HWs) has been a major challenge during the 2014-15 outbreak. We examined factors associated with Ebola virus exposure and mortality in HWs in Kenema District, Sierra Leone.

Concepts: Ebola, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Malaise, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone, Kenema District

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Contact tracing in an Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak is the process of identifying individuals who may have been exposed to infected persons with the virus, followed by monitoring for 21 days (the maximum incubation period) from the date of the most recent exposure. The goal is to achieve early detection and isolation of any new cases in order to prevent further transmission. We performed a retrospective data analysis of 261 probable and confirmed EVD cases in the national EVD database and 2525 contacts in the Contact Line Lists in Kenema district, Sierra Leone between 27 April and 4 September 2014 to assess the performance of contact tracing during the initial stage of the outbreak. The completion rate of the 21-day monitoring period was 89% among the 2525 contacts. However, only 44% of the EVD cases had contacts registered in the Contact Line List and 6% of probable or confirmed cases had previously been identified as contacts. Touching the body fluids of the case and having direct physical contact with the body of the case conferred a 9- and 20-fold increased risk of EVD status, respectively. Our findings indicate that incompleteness of contact tracing led to considerable unmonitored transmission in the early months of the epidemic. To improve the performance of early outbreak contact tracing in resource poor settings, our results suggest the need for prioritized contact tracing after careful risk assessment and better alignment of Contact Line Listing with case ascertainment and investigation.This article is part of the themed issue ‘The 2013-2016 West African Ebola epidemic: data, decision-making and disease control’.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Risk, Ebola, Incubation period, Sierra Leone, Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone, Kenema District

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There is a paucity of data on the etiologies and outcomes of febrile illness in rural Sierra Leone, especially in the Lassa-endemic district of Kenema. We conducted a retrospective study of patients with subjective or documented fever (T ≥ 38.0°C) who were admitted to a rural tertiary care hospital in Kenema between November 1, 2011 and October 31, 2012. Of 854 patients admitted during the study period, 429 (50.2%) patients had fever on admission. The most common diagnoses were malaria (27.3%), pneumonia (5.1%), and Lassa fever (4.9%). However, 53.4% of febrile patients had no diagnosis at discharge. The in-hospital mortality rate was 18.9% and associated with documented temperature ≥ 38.0°C (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 2.89, P = 0.001) and lack of diagnosis at discharge (AOR = 2.04, P = 0.03). Failure to diagnose the majority of febrile adults and its association with increased mortality highlight the need for improved diagnostic capacity to improve patient outcomes.

Concepts: Diagnosis, Yellow fever, Lassa fever, Sierra Leone, Freetown, Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone, Kenema District