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Lassa fever detected in the UK – here’s what you need to know

Dr Connor Bamford looks at the recent cases of Lassa fever detected in the UK.

Lassa fever detected in the UK – here’s what you need to know

Three people in the UK have tested positive for Lassa fever – including a newborn infant, who has unfortunately died as a result. Hundreds of close-contact healthcare workers are now in isolation as a precaution. This is the first time since 2009 that cases of the virus have been reported in the UK.

The patients are said to have contracted the virus in west Africa, where there has been a wave of infections reported in Nigeria. Many people are understandably concerned about this virus, especially given no vaccines exist against it and there are limited antiviral medicines to treat the infection it causes. But in the UK, given the small number of people that have been affected, the threat to the wider community is low.

Despite the recent news coverage, we’ve actually known about Lassa fever for over 50 years – though it’s likely been around much longer. The Lassa fever virus (which causes Lassa fever disease) was first discovered in 1969 during an outbreak in Nigeria. It was named after the town Lassa in the north east near Cameroon, where the outbreak first began.

Lassa fever is what is called a “viral haemorrhagic fever”, similar to Ebola. But while it can cause problems with how you control the movement of fluids through your body (meaning fluid may sometimes leak out of the blood vessels), this rarely happens. Thankfully, around 80% of people don’t get very sick when they contract Lassa fever, and usually only experience flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, sore throat and fever.

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Article originally appeared on The Conversation. 


Image appears courtesy of Shutterstock.

Dr Connor Bamford
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Dr Connor Bamford is a Research Fellow in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences. He is a virologist with over a decade of experience in studying how the immune system defends humans and other animals against disease-causing microbes like viruses, such as the hepatitis C virus, influenza virus and Zika virus.

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