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UNICEF and WHO help fight Lassa Fever outbreak in Benin

© UNICEF/UNI182237/Bindra
Benin is the latest country in West Africa to be affected by Lassa Fever. Above, in 2015 in Sierra Leone, a nurse washes her hands outside a Lasa Fever ward. Handwashing is a key measure in fighting the disease.

COTONOU, Benin, 10 February 2016 – Alarmed by an outbreak of deadly Lassa Fever, UNICEF and World Health Organization officials in Benin are scaling up an emergency response to help prevent further spread of the disease.

Lassa Fever, which arises from human contact with the faeces of infected rodents, is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, urine, saliva, or sperm. Those affected experience a range of symptoms including fever, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and abdominal pains. In its severest form, if it is not treated, the disease can lead to death.

Since the outbreak of Lassa Fever in Benin, there have been four confirmed and 52 suspected cases, and 17 people have died – two of them health workers. One of the confirmed cases is a 4-month-old child now receiving treatment in Tchaourou, in the north-east of the country.

Government authorities have been on the alert since early January when a pregnant woman with symptoms of the disease died, and six health workers in the same hospital in central Benin showed similar symptoms. Early in February several more cases were tested by the Nigerian reference laboratory and another three turned out to be positive.

With support from WHO, UNICEF and humanitarian partners, national authorities in Benin have taken emergency measures in response to the outbreak, including:

  • Setting up quarantine units in affected areas to isolate and treat victims;
  • Establishing a contact tracing system to find those who might have been exposed to the disease;
  • Mobilizing a network of almost 200 community health workers across the country to  monitor the contacts;
  • Prepositioning Ribavirin, known to be effective against the disease, in the capital Cotonou and in affected areas;
  • Distributing personal protection equipment (PPE) for health care workers, including tarpaulins, gloves, boots, goggles and masks, and decontamination products, as well as infrared thermometers, water treatment units, and other medical and laboratory supplies;
  • Training health care workers on PPE use, on the medical protocol, and in the identification of and active search for contacts;
  • Launching a public awareness campaign with messages broadcast by local radio, television, and through online media. 

Across the country, members of the public are encouraged to seek treatment immediately symptoms appear. People also receive life-saving information to avoid infection, particularly through washing hands with soap and water and limiting contact with persons showing symptoms of the disease.

Benin was last affected by Lassa Fever over a 4 month-period in 2014-2015 when 16 cases were reported and 9 people died.


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org or follow UNICEF Benin on Facebook and Twitter.

For more information, please contact:

Hadrien BONNAUD, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Bénin: hbonnaud@unicef.org 

François AGOSSOU, Advisor in charge of Health Promotion at WHO Bénin: agossouf@who.int




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