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Rat Poison Flies Off Shelves as Lassa Fever Spreads in Nigeria

A vendor sells bags of rat poison in northern Nigeria's largest city of Kano, Jan. 18, 2016.
A vendor sells bags of rat poison in northern Nigeria's largest city of Kano, Jan. 18, 2016.

An outbreak of a fever similar to the Ebola virus has Nigeria on edge.

Lassa fever has sickened at least 57 people and killed 34 since it broke out in Nigeria late last year. The disease is transmitted by rats, and in its later stages shares symptoms with Ebola, which killed over 11,000 people in West Africa after it broke out in 2013. Eight people died from Ebola in Nigeria.

Lassa fever, which is named after a town in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, sickens people who come into contact with rat excrement. Symptoms in the early stage include headache and fever, while in later stages people can bleed from their mouth and other orifices.

The fever broke out in parts of the country’s north, before spreading south to the commercial capital Lagos and to Edo and Akwa Ibom states in the Niger Delta.

Hassan Garba, a hospital director in the northern city of Bauchi, blamed the transportation of crops for the spread of the disease.

“When you’re moving food material like grains from the north to the south or the east or to the west of the country, you most probably may be moving with rats who can hide among shipments," said Garba.

That’s led to a run on supplies of rat poison in cities across the north. In Kaduna, Adamu Abubakar said he wasn’t taking any chances at home.

“This fever brought by rat, so that is why I’m rushing to the market and I’ll buy… rat medicine in order to kill all the rat that is in my house,” said Abubakar.

Merchant Odundele Benga said his supplies of the poison were exhausted.

“People are rushing the rat poison now. I don’t even have enough to sell,” said Benga.

But the director of the Kaduna state ministry of health Ado Zakari Mohammed warned people to be cautious with the poison, which is deadly to humans.

(Ibrahima Yakubu contributed reporting from Kaduna, Nigeria and Ardo Hazzad from Bauchi, Nigeria.)