What is Lassa fever and has it circulated in the UK before? How dangerous it really is

Two people have been diagnosed with Lassa fever in the UK. Here’s everything you need to know about the Ebola-like virus including symptoms and how dangerous it is

Young woman stop nose blood with cotton wool swabs.
Severe symptoms of Lassa fever include bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed that members of a family who recently returned from West Africa have been infected by Lassa fever.

A third relative of the family who lives in the East of England is also suspected of having the disease is currently waiting for test results.

The Ebola-like virus is an endemic in West Africa, where 100,000 to 300,000 cases of the disease are estimated each year.

There has been no evidence of a further spread beyond three people in the UK so far. But to be on the safe side, here’s everything you need to know about lassa fever, how it spreads and how dangerous it is.

What is Lassa fever and how does it spread?

Lassa virus is spread from exposure to food or household items contaminated with the urine or poo of infected rats



Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus. The virus is 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.

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.

What are the symptoms of Lassa fever?

Only 1% of those infected with Lassa fever die and 80% don’t experience symptoms


Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Around 80% of people infected with Lassa fever show no symptoms. However, some people experience symptoms like fever with aches and pains that can progress to headaches, vomiting and diarrhoea.

In certain severe cases, people may have facial swelling, fluid in the lung cavity, bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure.

Deafness also occurs in 25% of patients who survive the disease, but hearing usually returns partially after one to three months in half of these cases.

According to the World Health Organisation, only 1% of those infected with the Lassa virus die.

How dangerous is Lassa fever and has it spread in the UK before?

This is the first time Lassa fever has spread in the UK in over a decade. The disease was found in Britain back in 2009 and there have only been eight previous cases in the country.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, has assured that overall risk to UK public due to Lassa fever is “very low”.

She said: “Cases of Lassa fever are rare in the UK and it does not spread easily between people. 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.” .”

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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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