May 26, 2015

In a move to swiftly quell what appears to mirror the Ebola outbreak that happened in Dallas last fall, federal health and state officials are stepping up their efforts on Monday to stop a rare viral disease that recently killed a patient from spreading.

Late Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a rare disease, Lassa Fever that is rare in the United States but common in some part of West Africa, was the caused of death of a U.S. traveler who recently returned from Liberia to New Jersey via Morocco and JFK International Airport on May 17th.

According to CDC, Lassa fever is a less fatal viral disease than Ebola, but just as serious a disease (approximately 1 percent case fatality rate for Lassa vs approximately 70 percent case fatality rate for Ebola without treatment). It is carried by rodents and transmitted to humans through contact with urine or droppings of infected rodents and less likely to be spread from person to person.  However, as the patient in New Jersey did, some Lassa patients develop severe disease.

The patient, who is not identified by name- did not exhibit or report any symptoms associated with Ebola during his flights to the U.S. and upon arrival when his temperature was taken at the JFK International airport, the CDC said.

However, a day following his arrival in the U.S., the patient experienced symptoms of sore throat, fever and tiredness and went to seek treatment at a hospital in New Jersey, where he did not disclose he recently traveled to West Africa when asked about his travel history, according to health officials.

The patient was sent home that same day, but returned to the hospital a few days later when his symptoms worsen. He was then transferred to a special treatment center that treat hemorrhagic fevers, where samples were taken and sent to CDC for Ebola and other viral diseases testing.

On Monday morning, the results of the samples submitted came back negative for Ebola and other viral hemorrhagic fevers, but positive for Lassa fever.

The patient died shortly while in isolation at the New Jersey hospital.

Health officials have already dispatched their on the ground response to generate a list and identify people who had contact with the patient so those identified can be monitored for 21 days to see if symptoms occur.

CDC said the risk to others is considered extremely low for Lassa fever and it is less likely to be fatal than Ebola. Although Lassa fever can produce hemorrhagic symptoms in infected people, the disease is different from Ebola, which is responsible for the current outbreak in West Africa.

In rare cases, Lassa fever can be transmitted from person to person through direct contact with a sick person’s blood or bodily fluids, through mucous membrane, or through sexual contact. However, the virus is not transmitted through casual contact, and patients are not believed to be infectious before the onset of symptoms.

About 100,000 to 300,000 cases of Lassa fever, and 5,000 deaths related to Lassa fever, occur in West Africa each year.

There has never been person-to-person transmission of Lassa fever documented in the United States.

The New Jersey case is the sixth known incident of Lassa fever in travelers returning to the United States since 1969, not including convalescent patients. The last case was reported in Minnesota in 2014.

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