England records its first ever Lassa fever death: Hospitalised patient in Bedfordshire succumbs to eye-bleeding virus after becoming third member of family to test positive following trip to West Africa
- Unidentified person in Bedfordshire becomes first in UK to die with Lassa fever
- A total of 11 cases of the rodent-borne disease ever detected in the UK since 80s
- UKHSA is conducting a ‘robust contact tracing exercise’ to reach close contacts
A person in Bedfordshire has become the first in England to die after catching Lassa fever, the UK Health Security Agency announced today.
The unidentified individual was the third member of a family who recently returned from West Africa to become infected with the virus.
A total of 11 cases of the rodent-borne disease have ever been detected in the UK. The three infections identified in the East of England in the last three days are the first spotted since 2009.
The disease, which has been classed as having ‘pandemic potential’, is thought to cause no symptoms in 80 per cent of patients and kill just one per cent of those it infects.
The UKHSA is conducting a ‘robust contact tracing exercise’ to reach everyone who had close contact with those infected.
But it said the risk to the general public ‘remains very low’.
Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria — which is currently suffering an outbreak of the virus — and several other countries on the west coast of Africa, including Liberia and Guinea.
People usually become infected after exposure to food or household items that are contaminated with urine or faeces of infected rats.
But the virus, which can make trigger seizures and bleeding from the eyes, as well as make women bleed from their vagina, can also be transmitted via bodily fluids.
A person in Bedfordshire has become the first in England to die after catching Lassa fever (virus cell shown in diagram), the UK Health Security Agency has announced
The unidentified person who became the first in England to die after catching Lassa fever was being treated at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Bedford Hospital (pictured left) and Luton and Dunstable University Hospital (pictured right). Officials have not revealed which hospital the patient was being treated at
WHAT IS LASSA FEVER?
Scientists first identified the virus causing Lassa fever in 1969. It belongs to the Arenaviridae family.
According to the World Health Organization, 80 per cent of people who get infected won’t develop any symptoms. But the virus has a case-fatality rate of around 1 per cent.
Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria and several other countries on the west coast of Africa, including Liberia and Guinea, according to the WHO.
Symptoms begin with headaches, sore throats and vomiting, but it can trigger bleeding from the mouth, nose or vagina.
However, they gradually progress to shock, seizures, tremors, disorientation and comas without prompt treatment.
A quarter of patients will also experience temporary deafness that will eventually return, medical literature states.
Pregnant women who contract the disease late in pregnancy face an 80 per cent chance of losing their child or dying themselves.
It can either be spread by rats or from person-to-person by exposure to bodily fluids of someone who is infected.
A spokesperson for Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘We confirm the sad death of a patient at our trust, who had confirmed Lassa fever.
‘We send our deepest condolences to their family at this difficult time.
‘We will continue to support the patient’s family and our staff and are working closely with colleagues from the UK Health Security Agency to undertake a robust contact tracing exercise.’
The UKHSA said there was no evidence of any onward transmission among any of the cases.
No details have been revealed about the family due to patient confidentiality.
Of the two other cases, one was moved to the Royal Free Hospital in London to receive specialist care, while the second has already made a full recovery.
Around 80 per cent of people who contract the disease experience no symptoms at all, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
And while most people make a full recovery, the virus can be fatal in roughly 1 per cent of cases.
Among those who do get symptoms, a quarter of patients will experience temporary deafness that will eventually return.
Other symptoms include headaches, sore throats and vomiting.
It can also trigger bleeding from the eyes, mouth and nose.
However, they can gradually progress to shock, seizures, tremors, disorientation and comas without prompt treatment.
Patients are treated with antivirals and sometimes blood pressure drugs and oxygen.
The disease is classed as having pandemic potential and the World Health Organization (WHO) has included it on its priority watchlist, alongside Ebola and dengue.
Nigeria’s Lassa fever outbreak has seen over 200 cases and 40 deaths.
The country’s Centre for Disease Control said most cases have been identified among people in their twenties and thirties and are spread across 14 of the country’s 43 regions.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at UKHSA, said on Wednesday that Lassa fever cases ‘are rare in the UK and it does not spread easily between people’.