- Lassa fever, like Ebola, can be spread through contact with the bodily fluids (blood, saliva, urine or semen) of infected people
- Humans can also get it by coming into contact with the urine or faeces of infected rodents that carry the disease
- The disease typically causes a fever and flu-like symptoms, but it can cause bleeding through the nose, mouth and other parts of the body
- Most people will make a full recovery but the illness can be fatal
- Described as a cousin of Ebola, the disease is endemic in a number of West African countries
According to UKHSA, Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus. People usually become infected with Lassa virus through exposure to food or household items contaminated with urine or faeces of infected rats – present in a number of West African countries where the disease is endemic. The virus can also be spread through infected bodily fluids.
Lassa fever is an animal-borne, or zoonotic, acute viral illness. It is endemic in parts of West Africa including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. Neighboring countries are also at risk, as the animal vector for Lassa virus, the “multimammate rat” (Mastomys natalensis) is distributed throughout the region.
The illness was discovered in 1969 and is named after the town in Nigeria where the first cases occurred, says the CDC.
Transmission of Lassa virus to humans occurs most commonly through ingestion or inhalation. Mastomys rodents shed the virus in urine and droppings and direct contact with these materials, through touching soiled objects, eating contaminated food, or exposure to open cuts or sores, can lead to infection.
Signs & Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of Lassa fever typically occur 1-3 weeks after the patient comes into contact with the virus.
For the majority of Lassa fever virus infections (approximately 80%), symptoms are mild and are undiagnosed.
Mild symptoms include slight fever, general malaise and weakness, and headache. In 20% of infected individuals, however, disease may progress to more serious symptoms including hemorrhaging (in gums, eyes, or nose, as examples), respiratory distress, repeated vomiting, facial swelling, pain in the chest, back, and abdomen, and shock.
Neurological problems have also been described, including hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis. Death may occur within two weeks after symptom onset due to multi-organ failure.
The most common complication of Lassa fever is deafness. Various degrees of deafness occur in approximately one-third of infections, and in many cases hearing loss is permanent.
Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, has been used with success in Lassa fever patients. It has been shown to be most effective when given early in the course of the illness.
Patients should also receive supportive care consisting of maintenance of appropriate fluid and electrolyte balance, oxygenation and blood pressure, as well as treatment of any other complicating infections.
Individuals at greatest risk of Lassa virus infection are those who live in or visit endemic regions, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria and have exposure to the multimammate rat. Risk of exposure may also exist in other west African countries where Mastomys rodents exist.
Hospital staff are not at great risk for infection as long as protective measures and proper sterilization methods are used.
Source : CDC
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