Lassa fever: First person dies of rare rat-borne virus in UK – two other cases probed


Three people from the same family in east England have been confirmed to have contracted Lassa fever after returning from a trip to West Africa. One has now died

2020 epidemic test tubes with Lassa fever and coronavirus
There have been three cases of Lassa fever detected in the UK

The first person in the UK has died of rare rat-borne virus Lassa fever, with two other cases being investigated.

The UK Health Security Agency announced the third case today and said that it had proved fatal, with Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust then confirming the patient was in their care.

The cases were all from the same family in East England, who recently returned home from a trip to West Africa, where the virus is most prominent.

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus – and is similar to Ebola.

It’s spread from exposure to food or household items contaminated with the urine or faeces of infected rats.

You can also catch it through contact with infected bodily fluids.

Symptoms begin with headaches, sore throats and vomiting, but it can also trigger bleeding from the mouth, nose or vagina.

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The three cases came from the same family
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Image:

DPA/PA Images)

Without prompt treatment, the illness can progress to shock, seizures, comas and temporary deafness.

A UK Health Security Agency statement said: “The UK Health Security Agency can confirm that the probable case of Lassa fever under investigation is now confirmed, bringing the total number of cases to three. Sadly, this individual has died.

“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 single-stranded RNA virus (Arenaviridae) causes Lassa fever which occurs in West Africa
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Image:

Rex Features)

“The risk to the general public remains very low.”

A hospital trust spokesperson said: “We confirmed the sad death of a patient at our trust, who had confirmed Lassa fever. We send our deepest condolences to their family de ella at this difficult time.

“We will continue to support the patient’s family and our staff and are working closely with colleagues from the UK Health Security Agency to undertake a robust contact tracing exercise.”

Bottle of the hand sanitizer at Gbagada General Hospital, after Lassa fever outbreak

The three cases are the first in over a decade in Britain.

The disease is similar to Ebola and is endemic in numerous countries in West Africa.

While most of the 300,000 to 500,000 people who catch the virus each year make a full recovery, around 5,000 die.

One of the UK cases was whisked to the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust hospital for specialist treatment.

The other two both went to Bedfordshire.

Dr Sir Michael Jacobs, consultant in infectious diseases at the Royal Free London, said: “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.”

He added that if it does spread beyond the endemic areas it’s usually among high-risk occupations like medical or aid workers.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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