The week of February 7, a newborn baby died of Lassa fever in the UK. It is an acute viral disease endemic to certain regions of West Africa. According to the country’s health authorities, however, there is no reason to worry as the risk of an epidemic is low.
According to the BBC, three cases of infection have been confirmed so far, including the newborn baby and two other family members. They are said to have recently traveled to West Africa.
On February 11, the United Kingdom Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) announced the infant’s death. As for the other patients, one has recovered while the other is undergoing treatment at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.
What characterizes this disease
Lassa fever is a zoonotic disease, which means that it is transmitted to humans through an infected animal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vector of the virus is Mastomys natalensis or multi-udder rat. This rodent lives in parts of West Africa and spreads the virus through its excrement and urine. Transmission occurs through direct contact with contaminated particles from the rodent or with fluids from an infected person.
The first symptoms of the disease may not appear until three weeks after the primary infection. In about 80% of cases, patients are asymptomatic or show only mild clinical signs such as headache, muscle weakness and mild fever. In severe cases, patients may experience vomiting, respiratory distress, hemorrhage, neurological problems, and organ failure.
Should we be worried?
According to statistics, Lassa fever is responsible for nearly 5,000 deaths among the 100,000 to 300,000 people infected each year. However, according to the CDC, only 1% of Lassa fever infections are fatal. Furthermore, according to Dr Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s Chief Medical Adviser, the disease is rare in the UK and has a low level of contagiousness.
Since 1980, there have been only 11 cases of Lassa fever infection in the UK. The last cases of the disease appeared in 2009 in the country.
UKHSA health authorities are today continuing to closely monitor people who have had direct contact with the confirmed cases. As of February 16, no other positive case has yet been identified.