Lassa fever detected in Britain

Two cases of rodent-borne Lassa fever have been detected in a family that returned to Britain from West Africa recently. The Ebola like disease kills roughly one in one hundred people, however the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has stressed that there is no cause for alarm with only eight prior cases ever recorded in the country.
The infected patients are believed to be members of the same family, who live in the East of England, and are the first cases recorded since 2009. Health officials have said that there is no evidence on onward transmission amongst any of the cases.
The first patient has apparently made a full recovery while the second is receiving specialist care in the Royal Free Hospital in London to receive specialist care, A third probable case is being monitored by doctors locally at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria and several other countries on the west coast of Africa, including Liberia and Guinea with people becoming infected after exposure to food or household items that are contaminated with urine or faeces of infected rats.
The virus, which can make women bleed from their vagina and trigger seizures, can also be transmitted via bodily fluids.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) around 80 per cent of people who contract the disease experience no symptoms at all, and most people make a full recovery with around one percent of those who contract the disease dying.
Symptoms include temporary deafness, headaches, sore throats and vomiting. It can also trigger bleeding from the mouth and nose gradually progressing to shock, seizures, tremors, disorientation and comas without timely treatment.
Patients are treated with antivirals and sometimes blood pressure drugs and oxygen.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at UKHSA said: ‘We can confirm that two cases of Lassa fever have been identified in England, and a further probable case is under investigation.
‘The cases are within the same family and are linked to recent travel to West Africa.
‘Cases of Lassa fever are rare in the UK and it does not spread easily between people. The overall risk to the public is very low.
‘We are contacting the individuals who have had close contact with the cases prior to confirmation of their infection, to provide appropriate assessment, support and advice.
‘The UKHSA and the NHS have well established and robust infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious disease and these will be reinforced.’
Dr Sir Michael Jacobs, consultant in infectious diseases at the Royal Free London, where one of the patients is being cared for, added: ‘The Royal Free Hospital is a specialist centre for treating patients with viral haemorrhagic fevers, including Lassa fever.
‘Our secure unit is run by a highly-trained and experienced team of doctors, nurses, therapists and laboratory staff and is designed to ensure our staff can safely treat patients with these kind of infections.
‘People living in endemic areas of West Africa with high populations of rodents are most at risk of Lassa fever.
‘Imported cases rarely occur elsewhere in the world. Such cases are almost exclusively in people who work in endemic areas in high-risk occupations such as medical or other aid workers.’
Health officials have gone to great lengths to reassure the public the risk from Lassa fever which has now been detected in Britain, is very low and should not be a cause for concern.

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Written by

Peter McLaren-Kennedy

Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]