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First Death Confirmed In UK From New Outbreak; Know About Lassa Fever And Its Symptoms, Risks And Treatment

Lassa fever is a zoonotic or say an animal-borne disease which is transmitted by rats. The fever is endemic in West Africa and has the potential to cause tens of thousands of deaths.

As per the recent news, three people in the UK have been diagnosed with Lassa fever, out of which one has died on 11 February. Also, all three patients were from the same family and have recently travelled to West Africa.

Let's know more about the condition. Take a look.

What Is Lassa Fever?

Lassa fever is a viral haemorrhagic fever, similar to Ebola, Malburg and yellow fever. Studies say that the condition is known since the 1950s, however, was first identified in 1969 after the deaths of two missionary nurses in the town of Lassa in Nigeria. [1]

According to the CDC, around 1-3 lakh cases of Lassa fever occur annually, with around 5000 deaths. Around 80 per cent of individuals infected with Lassa fever have no to mild symptoms while 1 out of 5 infections may result in severe outcomes.

Causes Of Lassa Fever

Lassa fever is caused by the Lassa virus which is a single-stranded RNA virus that hosts a rodent "multimammate rat", scientifically known as Mastomys natalensis. This rat species is a common African rat. [2]

The infected rodent excretes the virus in their urine, probably the whole life. Also, they produce large numbers of offspring that colonise homes and store foods.

When the urine or faeces of these rodents come in direct contact with objects or foods, they get contaminated with the virus. Exposure to these fomites due to ingestion or inhalation can lead to the efficient spread of the Lassa virus from rodents to human hosts.

Also, the contamination is highest during the dry season and lowest during the wet season. [3]

Some of the ways by which the Lassa virus is transmitted from rodents to humans may include:

  • Leftover human food.
  • Inhalation of air contaminated with rodent excretion.
  • Cleaning of excretion.
  • Poorly stored food contaminated with rodent urine.
  • Exposure through open cuts and sores.
  • Person to person transmission through secretions or blood.
  • May spread via contaminated medical equipment ike syringes.

Note: Lassa virus is not spread from casual contact with no involvement of body fluids.

Symptoms Of Lassa Fever

The symptoms of Lassa fever usually start showing within 21 days after coming in contact with the virus. The symptoms are mild in 80 per cent of cases. It includes:

  • Mild fever
  • Weakness
  • Malaise
  • Headache
  • Inflammation in the back of the throat.
  • Proteinuria or increased levels of protein in the urine. [4]

The remaining 20 per cent may get severe symptoms such as:

  • Hearing deficit. [5]
  • Haemorrhaging in nose, gums and eyes.
  • Recurring vomiting.
  • Pain in the stomach.
  • Pain in the chest.
  • Respiratory distress.
  • Facial swelling.
  • Encephalitis
  • Tremors

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Risk Factors Of Lassa Fever

  • Staying or visiting areas where Lissa fever is endemic.
  • Mishandling of medical equipment.
  • Dry season (between January to March)

Complications Of Lassa Fever

Lassa fever may cause severe complications such as:

  • Multi-organ failure
  • In pregnant women, it may lead to sudden abortion.
  • Pleural effusion or "water on the lungs".
  • Pericardial effusion or buildup of extra fluid in areas around the heart. [6]

Diagnosis Of Lassa Fever

As Lassa fever is one of the four viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF), its diagnosis often gets difficult due to similarities in the symptoms with the remaining three VHFs. Some of the methods to diagnose Lassa fever may include:

  • Enzyme-linked immunosorbent serologic assays (ELISA): The test helps detect antibodies produced in response to the Lassa virus.
  • Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR): It helps detect Lassa virus RNA in the body. [7]

Treatments Of Lassa Fever

The effective treatment methods for Lassa fever may include antiviral medications like ribavirin. [8] Supportive methods like appropriate fluid and oxygenation may help improve the condition of the patients.

Prevention Of Lassa Fever

  • Store foods in containers and keep them away from rodents.
  • Keep the home clean.
  • Avoid consumption of rodents as a food source.
  • Avoid direct contact with contaminated patients.
  • Wear protective gear while handling patients with Lassa fever or medical equipment.

To Conclude

Visit a medical expert if you have the aforementioned symptoms.

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