A total of 40 people have died in an outbreak of Lassa fever in at least 10 Nigerian states within the last six weeks, the Nigerian health minister said Friday.

"In the last six weeks, Nigeria has been experiencing Lassa fever outbreak which so far has affected 10 states in the country," Health Minister Isaac Adewole told a press conference in the capital Abuja.

The affected states include Bauchi, Nasarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Plateau, Gombe and Oyo state.

“The total number [of cases] so far reported is 86 and 40 deaths with the mortality rate of 45 percent," Adewole said, adding that laboratory tests confirmed that 22 of the 86 suspected cases were Lassa fever.

Experts describe Lassa fever as an acute illness that causes bleeding and deaths in severe cases. The host of the Lassa virus is the “multimammate rat”.

It is said to transmit to humans from contact with infected food or household items contaminated with rodent excreta. The disease is endemic in the rodent population in parts of West Africa.

Earlier, Adewole had said the Nigerian government would continue to enhance its surveillance and social health education to prevent further spread of the disease in Nigeria. He added that the World Health Organization had been notified of the outbreak.

Anadolu Agency