SA detects first case of Lassa fever in 15 years

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SA records imported case of Lassa fever(Photo: Freepik)

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases has reported the detection of an imported case of Lassa fever in South Africa, the first since 2007.

In a statement released on Friday night, the NICD said a man with an extensive history of travel in Nigeria fell sick soon after returning to South Africa. He was admitted to  Pietermaritzburg Hospital where he died.

Lassa fever is a viral infection that is endemic to the West African countries and mostly reported in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria. Up to 300 000 cases of Lassa fever, with about 5000 deaths, are recorded annually in the endemic countries. Currently, there is no vaccine for Lassa fever.

A species of rodent called the multimammate rat is the natural host of the virus that causes Lassa fever. The rats are persistently infected and shed the virus in their urine and faeces. Humans can come into contact with the virus through direct contact or inhalation of the virus in areas that are infested with the infected rats. 

Track and tracing of contacts underway

“The man had extensive travel history in Nigeria before returning to South Africa. The diagnosis of Lassa fever was confirmed through laboratory testing,” the statement read.

Efforts are currently underway to trace and monitor anyone who had contact with the man. However, no secondary cases of Lassa fever have been confirmed as yet.

Person-to-person transmission of the virus does not occur readily and the virus is not spread through casual contact. Person-to-person transmission is mostly associated with the hospital setting where healthcare workers have contact with the infected blood and bodily fluids of a patient. 

Cases of Lassa fever in travellers returning from endemic countries are reported from time to time. The last case of Lassa fever in SA was reported in 2007 when a Nigerian citizen fell ill. The person also had extensive travel history in rural parts of Nigeria before falling ill. – Health-e News


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