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First UK Lassa fever death in over a decade

Published on 14/02/22 at 09:10am

A patient in Bedfordshire has died from a confirmed case of Lassa fever, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said. The patient died at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, run by the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

This follows the discovery of two other cases of the Ebola-like virus in the east of England, which were announced by the UKHSA on Wednesday. All three cases are members of the same family and are understood to be linked to recent travel. Lassa fever is usually caught from exposure to food or household items contaminated with the urine or faeces of infected rats, and can also be transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids.

The virus has symptoms similar to those of Ebola.

The UKHSA has said the risk to the public was "very low". NHS East of England has now declared a “regional major incident”. The cases are the first of the disease to be confirmed in the UK in more than a decade. Before the three recent cases, eight cases of Lassa fever had been identified in the UK since 1980.

“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,” a Bedfordshire Hospitals’ NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson said. “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.”

In a statement, the UKHSA said: “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. The risk to the general public remains very low.”

The recent cases are the first of the disease to be confirmed in the UK since 2009. The UKHSA said onward transmission between humans is rare and the risk to the wider community is low.

Ana Ovey

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