CDC Confirms Lassa Fever In The United States

The Center of Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a case of Lassa fever at Emory University Hospital. Lassa fever is a viral illness that originated in West Africa in 1969. Lassa is named after the town in which it was discovered. It is a single-stranded RNA virus of the Arenaviridae family, and it is animal borne.

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, Lassa fever is spread by rats throughout Sierra Leone, Liberia, New Guinea, and Nigeria. Symptoms are similar to the Ebola virus and include hemorrhagic fever and bleeding. Milder symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, chest pain, and abdominal and/or back pain.

The World Health Organization notes that 80 percent of patients experience the milder symptoms and many go undiagnosed. Because the symptoms mirror many genetic viral diseases, many individuals are misdiagnosed. Many Lassa fever cases have been confirmed through blood test after symptoms persistent.

The patient at Emory University Hospital is an American physician assistant who’d been doing missionary work in Togo. He is said to have contracted the virus there, and at the request of the United States State Department, was transported to Atlanta for treatment. He was flown to the Serious Communicable Diseases Unit at Emory University, where four other United States patients were housed for treatment from Ebola in 2014.

“We are continuing to treat the patient for symptoms of febrile illness,” Emory spokeswoman Holly Korschun said.

Lassa fever is deadly in about one percent of individuals. Among those who are infected, about 15 percent do not survive. The previous case, diagnosed in May of 2015, resulted in death. The New Jersey State Department confirmed the death in a person who recently traveled from Liberia. The patient arrived at JFK in May 2015, but according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this individual did not have Lassa fever upon his departure from Liberia.

Symptoms can take up to three weeks to manifest. The patient sought medical attention after the symptoms grew worse. On May 25, 2015, a blood test confirmed the patient had Lassa fever which lead to his death. There was no cause for harm as the disease is not contagious, nor does it spread through human contact.

People infected have contracted the disease through food exposed to rat feces or urine. Breathing particles in the air from rat feces has also lead to an infection. However, direct contact with bodily fluids can lead to infection, but the chances are low.

In the New Jersey case, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention thoroughly assessed the immediate family of the victim to ensure it was an isolated incident. It had not spread, and is very rare in the United States.

Lassa fever infects an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 individuals in West Africa each year and around 5,000 result in death. Ribavirin is used to effectively treat the virus.

Outside of the case at Emory University Hospital, there have been six other cases of Lassa fever reported in the United States. The earliest case was 2004. All infections were contracted while traveling to countries where the virus is prevalent.

Even though the symptoms reported mirror the Ebola virus, it is less deadly. Ebola has a mortality rate of more than 70 percent and with recent outbreaks, intensive measures were taken by all medical personnel involved in both cases.

[Image by AP Images]