A Bedfordshire patient has died of Lassa fever, it has been confirmed.
The person was initially placed under “investigation” for the acute viral illness, but officials confirmed the death on Friday (11 February).
Two other people in the UK have been diagnosed with potentially deadly Lassa fever and officials are now tracking down anyone who has may have been in contact with the deceased.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has sought to reassure people that “the risk to the general public remains very low”
The three people infected with the disease are all in the same family and had recently returned to the east of England after travelling to West Africa, where the virus is endemic.
The cases mark the first time the disease has been detected in the UK for 13 years, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.
One person has fully recovered, while another is receiving specialist care at a top security unit at the Royal Free Hospital in north London.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at UKHSA said last week: “We can confirm that two cases of Lassa fever have been identified in England, and a further probable case is under investigation. The cases are within the same family and are linked to recent travel to West Africa.
“Cases of Lassa fever are rare in the UK and it does not spread easily between people. The overall risk to the public is very low.
“We are contacting the individuals who have had close contact with the cases prior to confirmation of their infection, to provide appropriate assessment, support and advice.
“UKHSA and the NHS have well established and robust infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious disease and these will be reinforced.”
What is Lassa Fever?
Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus.
The disease is similar to Ebola and is present in a number of West African countries, where there are between 100,000 and 300,000 cases each year.
It is spread through exposure to food or household items contaminated by the urine or faeces of infected rats, and can also be passed on through infected human bodily fluids.
Around 80% of people will show no symptoms, but some will experience headaches, fever, sore throats, vomiting and diarrhoea.
In more severe cases, it can cause facial swelling, low blood pressure, fluid in the lung cavity, and can trigger bleeding from the mouth, nose or vagina.
Most people who are infected with Lassa fever will make a full recovery, but in some cases severe illness can occur.
Without quick treatment, the illness can progress to shock, seizures and temporary deafness.
One percent of people infected with the Lassa virus die, according to the World Health Organisation.
Prior to these new cases, there have been eight cases of Lassa fever imported to the UK since 1980.
The last two cases occurred in 2009 and there was no evidence of onward transmission from any of these.
Dr Sir Michael Jacobs, consultant in infectious diseases at the Royal Free London, said: “The Royal Free Hospital is a specialist centre for treating patients with viral haemorrhagic fevers, including Lassa fever.
“Our secure unit is run by a highly-trained and experienced team of doctors, nurses, therapists and laboratory staff and is designed to ensure our staff can safely treat patients with these kind of infections.
“People living in endemic areas of West Africa with high populations of rodents are most at risk of Lassa fever.
“Imported cases rarely occur elsewhere in the world. Such cases are almost exclusively in people who work in endemic areas in high-risk occupations, such as medical or other aid workers.”
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