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Health scare as man dies of Lassa fever

PUBLISHED: 10:42 30 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 07 September 2010

Tan Parsons A HOSPITAL is on high alert after a man died of tropical disease yesterday. The man, 66, contracted Lassa fever, which kills one per cent of its victims and leaves a quarter of them with hearing problems, during a trip to Nigeria before he ret

Tan Parsons

A HOSPITAL is on high alert after a man died of tropical disease yesterday.

The man, 66, contracted Lassa fever, which kills one per cent of its victims and leaves a quarter of them with hearing problems, during a trip to Nigeria before he returned to the UK on January 6.

He died at the Royal Free Hospital's high security infectious diseases unit, where he was also treated.

But the Health Protection Agency is urgently trying to trace any staff members who may have been infected while tending to him at University College London Hospital and Homerton University Hospital, where he was initially treated.

A spokesman for UCLH has played down the fears, saying the risk to their staff is minimal. He said: "The patient in question was at UCLH for less than half a day and all precautions for infectious diseases were followed.

"He was diagnosed very early in his treatment and only came into contact with five members of staff at UCLH, to whom the risk of infection is minimal."

When the patient checked in to Homerton Hospital on January 8 staff carried out testing for common infections associated with Africa but they all came back negative. Next he was transferred to the tropical diseases section at UCLH in Euston. In the meantime his samples were referred to the Health Protection Agency and when the diagnosis of Lassa fever was made on January 22 he was rushed to the high security unit at the Royal Free in Hampstead.

The man, who is from east London, died yesterday at 4.30pm of complications due to his illness, a Royal Free spokesman confirmed this morning. The next of kin has been notified.

HPA Lassa fever expert Dr Dilys Morgan said: "We are working closely with UCLH and Homerton University Hospital to identify any members of staff who may have been involved in the care of this patient, and who came into contact with his bodily fluids.

"These people will be provided with information about Lassa fever and asked to get in contact with us should they develop any symptoms. Patients and visitors to the hospital are not at risk.

"This is an isolated case of Lassa fever in a traveller who has recently returned from Nigeria. It is important to stress that there is no risk to the general public from this patient."

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus. It is found in West Africa and is rarely seen in the UK. It lives on MICE and spreads in their urine and droppings.

It is not easily spread between humans and then only by direct contact with victims' bodily fluids. The usual incubation period for the illness is from seven to 10 days and the symptoms include a fever, headache, sore throat, coughing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and muscle pain.

There have now been 10 confirmed cases of Lassa fever in the UK since 1970.


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