What is Lassa fever? | Kidderminster Shuttle


A hospital patient in Bedfordshire has died from a confirmed case of Lassa fever – the third case identified in the UK in recent days.

All three cases of the life-threatening disease are thought to be linked to recent trips to West Africa.

Here, the PA news agency looks at where the virus came from, what its symptoms are and how transmissible it is.

– What is Lassa fever?

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease, belonging to the Arenaviridae family of viruses, which lasts between two and 21 days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The virus, for which there is no approved vaccine, is known to be endemic in Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

But it probably also exists in other West African countries.

– What are the symptoms?

After starting with a fever accompanied by pain, the symptoms can progress to headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Severe cases can cause bleeding from the mouth and nose.

– How is it transmitted and is it easy to catch?

Humans can contract Lassa fever by eating food contaminated with rodent urine or feces.

The virus, like Ebola, can also spread through contact with a sick person’s bodily fluids, but it is not easily transmitted between humans.

According to the WHO, there is no epidemiological evidence to support airborne spread from person to person.

– How deadly is Lassa fever?

Most people with Lassa fever recover completely, although serious illness can occur.

The overall case fatality rate is 1%, according to the WHO.

But the case fatality rate observed in patients admitted to hospital with severe cases of Lassa fever is 15%.

Early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves chances of survival.

– How many cases have there been in the UK?

The virus was first formally identified in Nigeria in 1969 and no cases were reported in the UK until the 1980s.

Since then, there have been 11 total confirmed cases, including the three cases identified in recent days.

These cases are the first to be confirmed in the UK since 2009.

In November 2019, three British nationals were flown back to the UK from Sierra Leone for medical assessment after coming into close contact with two people diagnosed with Lassa fever.

However, no cases of Lassa fever were ultimately confirmed.

– How many deaths have there been in the UK?

Four people have now died from the virus in the UK since 2000, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

One died in 2000, two died in 2009 and the fourth death was confirmed on Friday.

– Where are the current cases in the UK?

Two cases of the virus were discovered in the east of England on Wednesday.

A third was confirmed at a hospital in Bedfordshire on Friday but the patient died.

– What is the risk to the public?

The UKHSA said the risk to the public “remains very low”.

In a statement, it added: “We are contacting people who have been in close contact with the cases before their infection was confirmed, to provide appropriate assessment, support and advice.”


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