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Varsities Engage Cats To Prevent Lassa fever

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Authorities of the various universities in the country have deployed various strategies, including the use of cats, in order to prevent an outbreak of Lassa fever on campuses, findings by our correspondents reveal.

From the University of Benin, Edo State; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State; Enugu State University of Science and Technology to the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the race for hunting of rats has taken a new dimension.

Before now, many, particularly animal scientists, did not bother about the danger of co-habiting with rodents, which they considered as part of the ecosystem. For the majority of the students also, provided these rodents did not eat their books and personal belongings, they could afford to allow them to exist on campuses.

But this situation has changed. Both the students and the workers no longer see these common rodents as co-partners. In fact, while some of the institutions employ the conventional approach such as preaching the “gospel” of cleanliness, sensitising students and members of staff to the danger of co-habiting with rats, and fumigation, others use the unorthodox mechanism like purchasing of cats to “de-rat” their campuses.

Even in some schools, students have thrown aboard the idea of indulging in their regular “drinking” of garri pastime.

That the authorities and the students now employ these strategies is not out of place. Rats, especially theNatal multimammate mice (Mastomys natalensis), found in many sub-Saharan Africa, are believed to be the major carrier of Lassa fever or Lassa hemorrhagic fever. And statistics so far show that no fewer than 60 persons have lost their lives to the virus in Nigeria.

From Benin, the authorities of UNIBEN are not giving anything to chance, especially with the reported death of a final-year engineering student. The student was said to be an occupant in Hall Three, one of the hostels on Ugbowo campus of the university.

But the UNIBEN management, through its Public Relations Officer, Mr. Michael Osasuyi, dismissed the speculation about the death of a student of the university.

According to him, there is no truth in the story that a final-year student died of the virus.

Osasuyi, who, however, said the university was carrying out proactive measures to forestall any outbreak in the institution, added that a committee had been set up to sensitise members of staff and students to the dangers of the virus.

He also hinted of plans to “de-rat the university” as part of efforts to check the prevalence of rodents in the community.

Osasuyi added, “The vice-chancellor has mandated the student union to organise sensitisation programmes. Before any outbreak, the university is even proactive. The population of student is much; so, we cannot take chances. It is no news that we have rats everywhere.”

However, it was also learnt that the various hostels had been fortified with cats allegedly provided by the university management to control the number of rats within the community.

But to escape contracting the virus, a 400-level medical student, Eddy Uwughiren, said many students on campus had increased their commitment to personal hygiene.

Uwughiren said, “I know that the school has organised a seminar to enlighten students on Lassa fever. There are school cats that kill the rats. Rats are very common in our hostels but the cats do kill them. For me, I ensure that I cover all my edibles well. It is the same with my roommates; we try to maintain a high level of hygiene.”

The use of cats to prevent an outbreak of the virus is also fashionable in ABU. It was gathered that the authorities, in declaring war on rats, provided cats on hostels, especially on Samaru and Kongo campuses.

The Director, Health Services of the ABU, Dr. Hauwa Nana-Madugu, who confirmed this, however, said the university was free of Lassa fever.

According to her, all the hostels – Amina, Suleiman, Akenzua, Danfo-dio, ICSA/Rammat – have been provided with cats to eliminate all rats.

Besides fumigating and clearing the surroundings, students and members of staff, she said, had been sensitised to the danger of the disease.

She added, “Apart from fumigating the environment, clearing of the bushes and rats’ (reservoir), the various hostels have been provided with cats to attack the rats. The university has no option but to safeguard the lives of the residents of the community.”

But students of UNICAL and the Cross River University of Technology, Calabar, have reduced the consumption of garri with cold water (‘soaking’) due to the fear of the virus.

Though there has not been any reported case of Lassa fever in the state, the authorities of UNICAL have embarked on fumigation of hostels to reduce the number of rats in the institution.

A 400-level Human Anatomy student, Soso Jumbo, said students had been discouraged from consuming garri “soaked” in cold water.

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He said, “We constantly get advice from the garri sellers on campus not to soak it the usual way in cold water to avoid contracting the virus. They have advised us to use to the hot water version for now and that is what I do if the need arises.”

Another student, Rosemary Johnson, said the fumigation by the management had reduced the presence of rodents on campus.

A 200-levels student in the Department Visual Arts, CRUTECH, Eme Archibong, said students had jettisoned the idea of “soaking” to avoid contracting Lassa fever.

The UNN management has also embarked on a campaign to sensitise the students to the virus.

Its Public Relations Officer, Mr. Okwun Omaku, said the management embarked on the campaign in order to prevent the outbreak of the disease in the institution.

He said, “We have been sensitising the students, creating awareness on the causes of Lassa fever and ways of preventing it. We did a memo on that and placed it on notice boards.

“Also, the campus radio station, Lion FM, is being used to create the necessary awareness among the students. The message is that they should ensure a clean environment, maintain hygiene and keep food and foodstuffs properly covered.”

But the Director for Public Affairs, ESUTECH, Mr. Ossy Ugwuoti, noted that Lassa fever was not in the state.

However, some of OAU students on Monday described rats at “co-tenants” in their halls of residence.

A student, who lives at Awo Hall, Timothy Okewale, said many students did not consider the presence of rats as a danger to their lives any longer because they had been living with these rodents since they were admitted to the university.

He said, “Rats are still around. They cannot go to anywhere because they get food easily and I think the environment makes them thrive.”

A resident at Mozambique Hall, who identified herself as Tope, agreed with Okewale on the presence of rats in the university.

She said although there had not been any recent fumigation in her hostel, the management placed a notice at the entrance of the hostels, advising students on the preventive measures.

She said, “The hall has not been fumigated since the outbreak of Lassa fever but we have plenty of rats around. Everybody is making efforts to prevent infection.

Students of the university last November embarked on a series of protests against the poor condition of their hostels.

However, the Public Relations Officer of the institution, Mr. Abiodun Olanrewaju, said there were no rats in the university. He said the neatness of the campus made it unattractive to rats.

He said, “There are no rats in OAU. The environment is not conducive to them. Rats prefer to live in dirty places where they can hide. That is not the case on our campus. The neatness and cleanliness of the OAU does not make the campus attractive to rats.”

A UNIPORT student, John Nnadum, said that the institution had begun the campaign against Lassa fever since last week, adding that lectures were organised in the institution on how to avoid the disease.

The spokesperson for the university, Dr. William Wodi, confirmed the contribution the authorities were making to prevent the virus on campus.

He added that the university had trained its health workers.

However, a student of the Kenule Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic Bori, Favour Udonkwa, said the institution had not begun any campaign on Lassa fever.

Udonkwa, a Mass Communication student, explained that though it was not long that the polytechnic resumed after a long break, no campaign against Lassa fever was going on in the institution.

The Deputy Registrar/ Head of the Information Unit, UNILAG, Mr. Toyin Adebule, said the authorities were not giving anything to chance. Beyond fumigation and sharing of pamphlets to sensitise members of the community, Adebule added, the authorities had posted all the needed information about the virus on the university’s website.

He said, “Following the bedbug saga, we had fumigated the hostels and other parts of the institution. Since then, we have continued to carry out the exercise to ensure that the environment is habitable. With the strategies put in place by the directorate of works and health services, I do not think the university will be caught napping with regard to Lassa fever.”

Even UI, whose students are on vacation, is putting in place some preventive measures. The UI Director of Health Services, Dr. Femi Akingbola, said the school had taken measures to ensure that no student came to the school with the Lassa fever.

He said the school would also screen the students when they arrived on February 13, adding that the institution needed the support of the Oyo State Government to guide against dumping of refuse by residents of the community outside the campus at the school gate.


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