Emory University Hospital: Lassa Fever Virus Patient

Emory University Hospital admitted a patient Saturday morning at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who suspects the patient has Lassa fever, reports say.

The patient is a physician’s assistant who returned from a missionary trip in West Africa.

Although the hospital says the diagnosis is not official, Emory told NBC News that the staff suspects the Lassa fever virus.

“[The patient is currently being treated] for symptoms consistent with a fever-related illness.”

Emory is working with the CDC, as well as with the Georgia Department of Public Health, who asked the hospital to admit the patient, to ensure the proper diagnosis and treatment of the patient.

An inside source told CNN that the patient is a high-risk case. However, officials want to reassure citizens that, although the patient’s case is serious, there is little danger of a random outbreak of the Lassa virus.

According to the CDC, Lassa fever is a viral infection that rarely occurs here in America because of its origins. It spreads through a type of rodent native to certain countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, and others in and around West Africa.

Lassa fever transfers through their waste through direct physical contact, the CDC says, which drastically decreases the chances of exposure to the virus.

“The risk of getting Lassa fever in the United States from someone who has traveled to West Africa is extremely low.”

Emory added that Lassa occasionally transmits through humans infected with the virus, but only if another person comes into direct contact with bodily fluids or waste. The hospital said it is not an airborne virus, nor is it transmissible through casual contact.

The virus stirs rumors of similarities to the Ebola virus. Emory combats the rumors with statistics.

“Lassa fever is different from Ebola [in that] the fatality rate for hospitalized Lassa fever patients is 10 to 20 percent, while Ebola’s fatality rate is 70 percent.”

To paint a clearer picture, Lassa infects anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000 people in the countries which harbor the rodents that carry and transfer the disease. Yet, the fever only causes about 5,000 deaths out of those cases.

In fact, this particular virus is only deadly in about 1 percent of people who contract the virus.

The CDC also points out that the symptoms of this virus, while initially similar to some of those that suggest Ebola infection, do not include bleeding.

“Lassa fever is less likely than Ebola to spread from person to person and is far less deadly.”

The symptoms of Lassa are usually mild. Ranging from weakness and fatigue to headaches and fevers, about eighty percent of people battle the virus without diagnosis and survive. The onset of these symptoms usually begins about one to three weeks after the patient contracts the virus.

A bit of good news is that Lassa fever responds to an antiviral medication called Ribavirin. The CDC also suggests that physicians maintain hydration, oxygen, and blood pressure in Lassa fever patients, and that they treat any other infections that might complicate the recovery from the virus to increase the patient’s odds of successful recovery.

There have been only six cases of the virus all throughout the United States, says the CDC, all of which contracted the virus during travels to places where this particular virus was already active and spreading. The most recent was a man last summer who returned from travels in Liberia. His case was fatal.

[Photo by John E. Davidson/Getty Images]