West African Virus Found In American Traveler, May Have Spread To Others

A West African virus that can kill patients in a matter of hours has struck a traveler who just returned to the United States, and now health officials are scrambling to see if others may have been infected as well.

The traveler had been returning from a trip to West Africa when he fell ill and was taken to a Minnesota hospital. Doctors determined that the unnamed person had contracted the sometimes deadly Lassa fever, a West African virus that strikes some 300,000 people each year. Though most people who contract the virus survive, it has been known to kill quickly in those with weakened immune systems.

Health authorities were working quickly to identify others on the plane with the traveler, though they said the risk of transmission is not high.

“People will not get this infection just because they were on the same airplane or in the same airport,” said CDC epidemiologist Barbara Knust in the statement. “Casual contact is not a risk factor for getting Lassa fever.”

The West African virus has come to the United States before. The last case of Lassa fever was reported in 2010, when a traveler returning from Africa to Pennsylvania fell ill. All seven other cases of the virus reaching the United States have been travel-related, authorities say.

“This imported case is a reminder that we are all connected by international travel. A disease anywhere can appear anywhere else in the world within hours,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement.

The West African virus is not related to the more deadly Ebola virus, which kills close to 90 percent of people who contract it. The virus recently struck in the nation of Guinea, killing 59 people and raising fears that it could spread to neighboring countries.